COVID has done a number on our sleep cycles. Here, 5 Ayurvedic steps to take to reclaim healthy circadian rhythms, and 5 things to avoid if you want quality zzzs.
New Science on the Why You Need More than 7 Hours of Sleep
Whether you get too much or not enough sleep, the consequences are severe, costing the US health care system a whopping extra $94 billion a year, according to a May 2021 study in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine. Researchers from the Harvard Medical School confirmed that a good night’s sleep plays a major role in keeping the doctor away.
Getting less than seven hours of sleep a night, or more than nine hours, on average has been linked to a host of health and safety concerns, including brain fog, fatigue, confusion, motor vehicle accidents, poor work performance, heart conditions and a massive surge in mood-related issues.
A review of sleep data revealed that people with sleep issues attended more than 16 office visits and filled 40 medication prescriptions a year, compared to nearly 9 visits and 22 prescriptions for those without a sleep disorder.
Sleep issues, such as sleep apnea, often go unnoticed and have been trending upward since 2013.
This new research review suggests that if you go to bed and wake up at varying times of the night and day, you may also be susceptible to a host of sleep-related health concerns. Research has shown that changing your sleeping patterns disturbs the body’s biological clocks that keep us in sync with nature’s 24 hour circadian rhythms.
Research on teenagers, who have the most variable sleep schedules, shows that they have the highest rates of anxiety and depression, according to the National Comorbidity Survey-Adolescent Supplement. Of more than 10,000 adolescents between the ages of 13 and18 who were surveyed, 32% of them were diagnosed with anxiety and one in four to five met criteria for a mental disorder that could cause severe impairment across their lifetime, suggesting that a lifetime of mental health concerns starts with adolescent sleep imbalances.
It has been a rough year for adults trying to get enough sleep, too. Since Covid started last year, there has been a 24% rise in adult mood-related health issues compared to the previousyear, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
Resetting Your Circadian Clock
In every cell of the body, there is a biological clock that is designed to keep the body in rhythm with cycles of light and dark, and with the seasons. For most living organisms, not being prepared for winter or nightfall would put the species at risk. Today, humans can stay up all night, eat the same food and practice the same habits 52 weeks of the year and seemingly get away with it.
Western medical research now tells us what Ayurveda has been preaching for thousands of years–that living a lifestyle in sync with nature’s circadian cycles is critical to our health.
In fact, researchers investigating circadian rhythms, called chronobiology, won the Nobel Prize in Physiology in 2017. Soon, experts say, circadian medicine will be a new specialty in modern Western medicine.
Not only do we need seven to nine hours of sleep each night, but there is powerful benefit to keeping the same eating and sleeping routines each day. Over years, the body’s biological clocks become entrained to going to sleep at the same time at night and wake up at that same time each mornign. Ideally, from an Ayurvedic perspective, we should be up to watch the sunrise and be asleep within two hours after sunset. This may be a bit tricky in the winter when the sun sets as early at 4:30 p.m., but the science is in—early to bed, early to rise makes us healthy, wealthy, and wise.
Just like yoga has the yama and niyama, or ethical restraints and observances, so does sleep. Read on for five sleep yama and five sleep niyama.
Five Things to Avoid if You Want Healthy Sleep Cycles
- Any caffeine after 1 p.m.
- Naps longer than 10 to 15 minutes after the main midday meal
- Exercise after sunset
- Screen time two hours before going to bed
- Difficult mental activity, likework, after 7 p.m.
Five Ayurvedic Steps for Healthy Circadian Sleep Cycles
- Wake up at the same time each day. Try to witness and enjoy the sunrise!
- Go to bed at the same time. Try to be in bed by 9:30 p.m. on average each night, and earlier if possible in the winter.
- Exercise at the same time each day. Ideally this should happen during the morning hours–during the kapha time of day, between 6 a.m. and 10 a.m.
- Eat breakfast, lunch, and supper at the same time each day.
- Get exposure to sunlight (even if it is cloudy) for at least 20 minuets a day.