Good sleep is one of the Traya Upastambhas (3 supporting pillars of life) and is said to destroy half of our diseases. Sleep is the time when our organs reset and regenerate, when the jatharagni (the digestive fire) processes, assimilates and produces waste meant for excretion, while the subconscious mind digests emotions, all thanks to the fires of Pitta dosha, which governs the time period between 10pm - 2am.
With high rates of insufficient, excessive or low-quality sleep leading to chronic health disorders such as insomnia, anxiety, restlessness, burnout, adrenal fatigue, lethargy, depression, weight-gain, etc. and so many more symptoms reflecting our lack of sleep hygiene, it's becoming so clear that something needs to change in our lives in order to reclaim our sleep.
Ayurveda actually recommends clear suggestions for the time period between sunset and sleeps as well as specific things to avoid during that time. All of these suggestions, if followed regularly, to the best of one's ability and without making them another thing to 'accomplish,' will result in a healthy and harmonious relationship to sleep.
The 5 suggested post-sunset avoidances, called Sandhya (sunset) Varjya (to be avoided or shunned) are:
1. FOOD (Aaharam):
It was always recommended to avoid food after sunset as the food that is taken so late and so close to the time of sleep will therefore be improperly digested, will overwhelm or weaken agni, and will lead to the formation of excess ama (waste residue), eventually resulting in the manifestation of disease.
If late meals and then midnight snacking is your habit, begin to draw your dinner-time back and try to avoid all snacking and eating past 7pm. Although this may feel unfamiliar and uncomfortable at first, over time, you will readjust to this schedule and your body and mind will thank you for it!
2. SEX (Maithunam):
Although sexual activity and the nighttime seem to go hand in hand in western culture, in Ayurveda, it is considered counterproductive to good health. Ayurveda generally recommends ways in which sex can be engaged in in a way that protects the vitality and health of the body, as excessive sex is considered to be depleting to Ojas (vital energy), and where there is depleted Ojas, there is illness.
While most are accustomed to having sex when the sun has gone down, Ayurveda recommends to avoid this, as it is considered to be a time when dark energies are more predominant, resulting in the darker tendencies that live inside of us to come out during love-making, turning our sex into an act that comes solely from our primitive instincts than from presence and love.
It is also contraindicated to have sex during the times of the day governed by pitta and vata dosha, between 10pm-2am/10am-2pm and 2am-6pm/2pm-6pm respectfully (both in the am and pm). Sex generally increases vata and pitta, but decreases kapha, and so we aim to have sex during the Kapha-predominant time periods of 6am-10am or 6pm -10pm, when and if it is still light out.
3. SLEEP (Nidra):
Ayurveda recommends against sleeping during the time after sunset and before around 10pm, which marks the beginning of the pitta time of the night. It is said that sleeping at this time will actually lead to poverty in all terms (poverty of health, wealth wisdom and intelligence).
Instead Ayurveda recommends to sleep around 10pm, and not to stay up past this time, as Pitta dosha will activate the mind as well as agni, making one hungry, and lead to poor and insufficient sleep. And when this is practiced on a regular basis, ojas-depletion will be the unavoidable result.
4. READING (MENTAL ENGAGEMENT) (Sampaatam):
Although it can feel tempting and even relaxing to bring a book into bed with you, Ayurveda recommends against this, as reading (especially off of an electronic device) stimulates the mind, when it so needed at this time for the mind to rest and retire for the day. Ayurveda shares that reading or studying at night can lead to 'ayu hani' or bad effects to life. By reading this late, we are once again stimulating pitta dosha and reducing the chance of getting a quality night's rest.
5. LONG WALKS (Adhwa gamana):
Ayurveda recommends against taking long walks after sunset and at night, as it is said to induce 'bhaya,' or fear and insecurity.
Although we no longer live in the ancient times in which these recommendations were transcribed into the ancient texts, it is possible to bring a remembrance and awareness of them into our daily modern lives, approaching them with exploration and curiosity, rather than doer-ship, to reap the benefits that they naturally will provide to our nights, mornings and our entire existence.