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Sleep: You Need Some - Part I

Realized sadhu gets enough sleep

We all know that sleep is important. We've heard it all our lives. How much sleep? Some experts say 8 hours - across the board. Others say that each of us is different - an individual's needs vary between 6 and 9 hours. Still others say that the amount of sleep needed depends on our physical and mental activity - more of this means more sleep required.

So where do you fit in? Do you get 8 hours of sleep each night? Do you do fine on 6? Or, are you like my mom, who goes night after night on 5 hours, because she "doesn't feel sleepy".

According to Ayurveda, each of us needs 7-8 hours of *quality* sleep every night. (I'll explain the Ayurveda sleep clock in next article). You may think that you are perfectly okay on 6.5 hours of sleep. You may think that because you get through your day just fine without ever feeling drowsy, and you hit the bed exhausted each night and fall asleep quickly... therefore you don't need 8 hours. (And you can't get that much anyway due to your hectic schedule.)

Are you waiting for extreme fatigue to tell you that you need more sleep? Well, that's not going to happen in this day and age. You see, there are certain stimulants that give us a wide-awake feeling and mask the body's inner signals of being sleep deprived. We all know that coffee is one of them. You can sleep 6 hours each night and get through the day with the aid of caffeine and never feel drowsy. Does that mean your body isn't sleep deprived? No. The caffeine has fooled you.

More than caffeine - hold on to your chairs - perhaps the number one stimulant that wires your brain so much that you may never hear your body's cries for rest, is electronics. TV, computer, phone. Above all is the ipad/iphone/android. Specifically: internet browsing, online shopping, emailing, youtubing, and to top the list, the addictive and mostly useless social media.

Take this test (only once please): pick a time when you are so exhausted you can barely keep your eyes open...when you're so tired you wished a magical crane would appear and carry you to bed (your husband hasn't worked out in years so no point in asking him). Now, open your chromebook and check your facebook page. Stay on it just 5 minutes. Notice what has happened - you're now wide awake - eyes dilated, heart rate increased, brain alert - and you can't sleep no matter how many sheep you count.

Since most of our lives now revolve around electronics (studies say the average person checks their phone over 80 times a day), and throw in the additional stimulants in our daily life such as chai, coffee, watching news, hitting traffic, etc, how can we possibly know if we are tired? Remember, these stimulants mask the feeling of tiredness. You may never feel fatigue if you are constantly using electronics, though your body could be majorly sleep deprived, leading you towards serious illness.

Sleep deprivation is such a chronic condition these days that you might not even realize you've been suffering from it for years. Science has now established that a sleep deficit can have serious, far reaching effects on your health. Just as an example, impaired sleep can:

  • Dramatically weaken your immune system

  • Accelerate tumor growth—tumors grow two to three times faster in laboratory animals with severe sleep dysfunctions

  • Cause a pre-diabetic state, making you feel hungry even if you've already eaten, which can wreak havoc on your weight, and worsen diabetes

  • Seriously impair your memory; even a single night of poor sleep—meaning sleeping only 4 to 6 hours—can impact your ability to think clearly the next day

  • Impair your performance on physical or mental tasks, and decrease your problem solving ability

  • Increase stress-related disorders such as heart disease, stomach ulcers, constipation and mood disorders like depression

When your circadian rhythms are disrupted, your body produces less melatonin (a hormone and an antioxidant) and has less ability to fight cancer, since melatonin helps suppress free radicals that can lead to cancer. This is why tumors grow faster when you sleep poorly.

Ayurveda states that sleep is nature's time to bring your body back to balance - when you shorten it, you bring imbalance and that's the starting point for disease.

One study has even shown that people with chronic insomnia have a three times greater risk of dying from any cause. Lost sleep is lost forever, and persistent lack of sleep has a cumulative effect when it comes to disrupting your health. Poor sleep can make your life more than just miserable... it can make it terribly sick.

So, don't assume that if you're not feeling drowsy during the day, you're fine on 6 hours of sleep. Don't think this way because you read an article that the older you get, the less sleep you need. If you really want to know your body, go on a holiday (or staycation) without your phone and no access to Wi-FI, and don't turn on an alarm. Just listen and watch. Your eyes will naturally open when it has enough rest, and you won't need stimulants to stay energized.

Get a full night's sleep. Well rested means relaxed and happy, with a mind that is "quiet, alert and vigilant."

My next article will talk about proven positive sleep practices that will help everyone increase quality of sleep, according to Ayurveda. Now...close your screen and go to bed !

WIth blessings for your good health and well-being,

Hari Om,


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