Sleep vs Inertia

Sleep vs Inertia

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.

In Ayurveda:
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.

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  1. Davidya

    It’s worth noting for this post that these are guidelines, useful habits to culture. We should not take anything to an extreme or as a hard rule.

    Experiment to find what works best for you. And don’t be rigid about time. A good routine is great but staying up once in awhile can also be fun and it keeps us flexible.

    By culturing an early bed time and going to bed earlier to catch up, some people feel a considerable lift in clarity and mood within a short while. Imagine the money you can save too. 😉

  2. Nil

    Hi Davidya
    Interesting post. I use to get out from bed early in the morning, and it gives me a felling of happiness.
    On the other side I must admit that early bed time is a little harder rule, but I will experiment it.
    thank you

  3. Davidya

    Hi Nil

    Yes, the early bed time can be the challenge. I was partly pushed to it by an external schedule. But once it became habit, it became easy. There’s a few things I let go of but the quality of life is worth it.

    There’s a lot of people out there running in a fog of fatigue without realizing it. But they may occasionally stop to ask where the happiness went.

  4. Pingback: Breaking Inertia « In 2 Deep

  5. N

    Hi David,

    Have you experienced a decrease in your need for sleep over the years as you’ve practiced TM?

    From what I hear, it sound like many long-term meditators only sleep four hours more or less. Has that been your experience and if so when did your need for sleep start to change?

    1. Hi N
      It’s varied. There was a period when it dropped down to about 4 hours but other factors like processing shifts, stress, life events, etc bring it back up again. I just go with what the body wants.

      Witnessing sleep changes the dynamic quite a bit though. So the sleep since that began has been different, similar to a long meditation. Had that confirmed scientifically a few years back.

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