Effects of diet on sleep - An Ayurvedic Perspective

Effects of diet on sleep - An Ayurvedic Perspective

August 06, 2020


Follow up on part-1

One of the real-life factors that deserve contemplation is diet. Human behavior and food diet have always been a curious phenomenon throughout the ages. An all-embracing assessment of human behavior with food can only be made by observing real-life experience. Have you ever wondered what an average adult would choose if he were asked to decide between a homemade fresh juice/ hot herbal tea and a sweetened beverage? The answer would undoubtedly be obvious. Studies have found that the global consumption of a famous soft drink to be more than 10000 drinks per second. The U.S CDC report for the period 2011-14 claims that 6 out of 10 teens (63%) and 5 out of 10 adults (49%) are devoted drinkers of a famous sweetened beverage. The risk of chronic disease due to inflammation along with numerous minor ailments due to modern-day fast food and sugary beverages has been studied in large populations. There are implications of these food choices on our mental functioning and sleep. Most of the soft drinks on the market actually owe their popularity to the psychology of color and sound. The appealing color and hissing sound can trigger impulse buying.  And soft drinks literally have the same adverse effects as of late-night party foods. No one shies away from an after-hours burger! Popular diets play a huge factor in our sleep patterns, often robbing us of needed rest and rejuvenation.

It won’t come as a surprise that research on the relationship between diet, sleep, and homeostasis has gone unheeded. Most of the studies on the detrimental effects of soft drinks and fast foods have been either lost in the news or stuck between overlooked medical literature. However, Ayurveda, on the other hand, gives us ways to experience well-being with diet, both in the individual and community. Ayurveda gives emphasis to the wellness of an individual by creating the ideal health experience. It also explores the natural biological rhythms - the body’s internal clock. 

The three pillars of life according to Ayurveda are Ahara (Diet), Nidra (Sleep), and Abrahmacharya (Lifestyle). When these three factors are in equilibrium, a person can be deemed as healthy. It is important that we explore the interrelation between the three pillars, especially Ahara and Nidra, to comprehend the concept of sleep better.

How does diet affect your sleep? 

 According to Ayurveda, diet and sleep are two inseparable factors that contribute to the well-being of an individual. An ideal sleep pattern can only be achieved if the Agni ( Digestive Fire), Doshas ( Foundational concepts), Dhathus ( Supporting units of the body), Manas (Mind), and Srothas (Channels) function in tandem. Aharas (Diet) that maintains a healthy balance of Shareera (Body) and Manas (Mind) can enhance sleep. 

The first rule of Ayurvedic diet is to never fill your stomach to its maximum capacity. The ideal intake of food should be at one-third of the stomach’s capacity. The other part is left vacant to help with digestion and the assimilation of food. The food must be allowed to digest before consuming your next meal. It is also important to have a proper understanding of your Agni (Digestive fire). 

 The following are the signs that you had a good meal. 

  • The lightness of the body
  • Increase in metabolism 
  • Odorless belching
  • Gratifying taste in your mouth

What are the effects of diet on your sleep?

Diet should be chosen in accordance with the Tridoshas, as it has a direct impact on them. Pitta dosha, for example, which is responsible for the metabolic transformations, is more active during the daytime. Hence, food consumed in the daytime metabolizes faster. Disparities may occur in the dosha balance as seasons change. Apparently, the well-known axiom, “Eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince and dinner like a pauper," actually holds importance even in Ayurveda. Observational studies have found that the sleep patterns of people who eat a larger breakfast than dinner are healthier than others. They appear to have better sleep with less awakening. It is also advised to take a brisk thirty-minute walk to help the movement of the Vata dosha through the Srotas (Channels). Proper movement of Vata can ensure the steadiness of bodily functions and thereby provide better sleep.

 Eating healthy should be fun and not a challenge.

What are the healthy eating habits you should adopt for a good night's sleep? 

 Personalized diet is a well-established concept in Ayurveda, which has important insights on individualized diets along with general diet guidelines. Specific diets have also been mentioned to promote sleep with special emphasis on food items that can enhance Ojas and Kapha, cleanse the stomach, and normalize Vata. Ksheera (Milk) is one Sahara that does all of these. Milk's ability to enhance Ojas and produce necessary Kapha makes it one of the best inducers of a good night’s sleep. Goat's milk is light in nature and easy to consume even if you have a weak Agni.  The most potent milk, however, is Buffalo's milk. It has the ability to induce sleep better than Cow's milk. It must be kept in mind that it needs a strong Agni to digest Buffalo's milk. Cow's milk is advised as a general sleep stimulant owing to its moderate nature. A dinner that mainly constitutes either wheat, barley, or millet is advisable. Fresh, organic vegetables should also be given preference. Meat must be made into a soup for better digestion. A well-cooked non-vegetarian soup with pepper and ghee has the potential to detoxify your Srotas. A decoction made of Thulasi (Holy Basil) and Shunti (Dry Ginger) is literally an all-season drink. It can counter the pernicious effects of the cold and rainy seasons by enhancing your Agni. 

What to eat before bedtime?

The food you consume at night shouldn't be an extra burden for your Agni. It must be light and easy to digest. Food items that boost Kapha and Ojas are ideal. Golden Milk, or Turmeric Milk, is highly exalted as a remedy to boost immunity. Adding a teaspoon of turmeric powder to your boiled milk would definitely help. The combination of Amalaki (Gooseberry) and Honey stabilizes the Tridoshas, thanks to its Rasayana (Rejuvenative) property. Research suggests a high protein diet can lessen the number of times you awaken at night. A high carbohydrate diet, on the other hand, has a positive impact on sleep. Further studies are necessary to analyze the impact of macro-nutrients on sleep efficiency. 

What to avoid? 

It's important to have an idea of the negative aspects of Ahara (Diet) along with the positives. Food items that are spicy, fatty, and take a long time to digest are generally found to be unhealthy. Any negative impact on your digestion could have an effect on your sleep. Ayurveda strictly forbids the intake of Curd, leafy vegetables, and excessive meat at night.

The story doesn't end here. Apart from the mentioned immediate remedies, Ayurveda has an extensive pharmacy of herbal preparations that can play an important role in the healing process of sleep deprivation. After all, it takes a careful holistic approach to achieve a complete cure for all sleep problems.

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