The Sleep Ingredient

“The needs of the body are the needs of the divine spirit which lives through the body.” BKS Iyengar

In Ayurveda (see Caraka samhita Su 11:53) there are three things needed to support life: food, sex, and sleep. When you have too much or too little of any or all of these there is imbalance. Sleep is the missing ingredient for so many of us. For some of us it’s due to our hectic non-stop lifestyles, chemical imbalances, stress, or in my case a 15-month old. We can’t take a pill to make up for sleepless nights. We can’t buy back our mitochondria, or buy new adrenals. Once it’s gone it’s gone. Sleep is an essential ingredient and without it everything is affected. We need sleep to rejuvenate, function, heal, and to replenish ourselves.

Sleeping hasn’t been something I can do well. I like late nights, and late mornings. My daughter apparently follows the same schedule. She doesn’t sleep. I have tried almost everything. She wakes up every 2-3 hours. Everyone tells you it gets better and then proceeds to give you more advice. She won’t sleep in her crib because she has associated it with being in the hospital, and sleeping with us seems like a better option. It is only when you meet someone else whose 15-month old doesn’t sleep that you get some sort of reassurance that you are not the only parent awake all night.

Since I don’t sleep much through the night, I have realized how imbalancing this can be for me and anyone else who has a hard time sleeping through the night. You lose touch with your own practice and yourself, your mood and emotional state changes, you become more vulnerable and susceptible to illness, and you go to vices like coffee and chocolate to function. Most days, I wonder how I actually function and think that it has a lot to do with my practice and an instinct that kicks on biologically when you are a mother.

I have incorporated some ways to stay grounded during this process of sleeplessness and new motherhood.

  1. Routine. I’m not a routine person, but need routine. Going to bed at a set time keeps me from staying up until 12:30am writing.
  2. Abhyanga (oil massage). This is a deeply relaxing ayurvedic practice that calms my nervous system instantly.
  3. Sitting in meditation for 5-10 minutes every morning. If I can practice asana or pranayama, I practice for at least 20 minutes daily.
  4. Not eating chocolate. I love chocolate. Yet, it keeps me ungrounded throughout the day. Chocolate increases every constitution. Also, not eating too many carbs or sugars to keep me fueled helps. Instead, I reach for protein.
  5. Perspective. My daughter will only be 15-months old once and so I sacrifice my sleep so that she receives exactly what she needs at 2am.  I have found that mantra at 2am works and knowing that the sleepless moments will pass.
  6. Finding moments to rest and take a break throughout the day. When you don’t sleep at some point during the day you completely crash. This is the time to stop and relax if you can.
  7. Acupuncture. I love acupuncture. I go right into a deep sleep for an hour.
  8. Avoid taking sleep medicine, it will only make you feel groggy and doesn’t solve the problem.
  9. Restorative yoga and or yoga nidra. This is a way to reset your body and heal by practicing asanas that are restorative in nature. Yoga nidra is yoga sleep. You put your body into a mindful state of sleep, where you can recuperate from a sleepless night.
  10. Surrender and let go.


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