Getting enough rest is key if we’re going to enjoy life consistently and have good experiences in our spiritual practice. With the availability of the electric light, we have the choice to stay up and surf, watch TV, read and so forth. Many people then keep themselves alert with doses of coffee or cola.
Being conscious is useful but where is the quality of life?
There is a trap in this dynamic as well. We always desire more joy. Life is structured in bliss, so it is fundamental to our nature. If our daily life has become a drudge, we seek pleasures after hours. But then we get tired and this saps our joy even further. And so on. Our efforts at increasing joy are doing the opposite – increasing inertia.
We’ve all heard the saying “Early to Bed, early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise.” I’ve heard a number of health experts suggest this as well. But recently, I made some observations that illustrate another angle on this.
First – we need enough sleep. But we also want quality sleep. Quality comes in part from sleeping at the right time.
6-10 am is Kapha time – good for exercise, activity
10-2 pm is Pitta time – time for the biggest meal of the day
2-6 pm is Vata time – good for mental activity
and the cycle repeats:
6-10 pm is Kapha time – time to wind down
10-2 am is Pitta time – best sleep time
2-6 am is Vata time – best time for waking, with nature.
Clearly, the western culture does not run on this schedule. Ayurveda suggests bed by 10. In fact, vaidyas have said that if everyone kept this schedule, there would be no one in the health clinics. You should avoid stuff like coffee and sweets after 8pm and TV and computer after 9:30. An evening walk after dinner is also good, much as exercise is good in the morning. Of course, individual needs may vary.
The first 2 hours of sleep are the deepest, when you get the longest delta cycles. Ideally, this happens before midnight. This also aids digestion as it’s Pitta time.
You may say, as I have, that “I’m a night owl”. This actually speaks more to habits than natural rhythms. If you stay up past 10, you get into a new waking cycle. It gets harder to get to sleep. The midnight snack drive is due to the matching noon feast time.
What most westerners do after staying up late is sleep in. It’s something I’ve done myself many times. But sleep after about 6am is in Kapha time of day. This is the time for activity. Sleeping then will increase heaviness or sluggishness.
This inertia feeds on itself, looking for more. In the Vedic model, this is called Tamas, of the 3 gunas. Rather than getting more rested, we get more dull. It is opposite the Sattva we want for better experiences.
In other words, while the occasional sleep-in is fine, the way you’ll restore restfulness and clear the fatigue backlog is by going to bed early. I had a lot of resistance to this but once I shifted into an earlier lifestyle, I was surprised what a difference it made.
Life is meant to be enjoyed. Joy is the very life in our veins. All that gets in the way of this being our moment to moment experience is the condition of our physiology. Get clear, get happy.