Many of my clients lately are having problems with getting proper sleep during this season of so much change. The beginning of Vata weather tends to induce restlessness and anxious thoughts. One of my clients told me, “I just lay awake at night thinking about all the things I have to do. I get really stressed out, then I start thinking about how my lack of sleep is making me break out, and I get even more stressed out!”
Lack of sleep doesn’t only make us feel less energetic and less focused, but it can also cause breakouts, dehydrate our skin, and accelerate the signs of aging. This was a topic that came up during a seminar on anti-aging which I attended while in New York a couple of years ago. One researcher discussed the concept of circadian rhythm (for those of you who are not familiar with circadian rhythm, it is the 24 hour cycle which outlines our bodies’ behaviors and physiological changes throughout the day) and its effects on our skin. He and his team had been particularly interested in their study of ‘clock genes’ which are found within our cells. These genes allow synchronization of cellular activity with the circadian cycle. In relation to the skin, they observed how our bodies repaired at night as these clock genes induce protective antioxidants.
Each cell has its own clock which is governed by a part of the brain called the suprachiasmatic nucleus. Found in the hypothalamus (the body’s “master clock”), the suprachiasmatic nucleus understands “night” in relation to light and regulates many different body functions and activities. Also note that the hypothalamus is a communicator between the nervous system and the hormonal system.
They observed that when clock genes were synchronized with the circadian clock, it enhanced the skin’s resistance to UV damage and enabled our cells to restore themselves. However, the clock genes could not synchronize after a sunburn as the UV damage caused DNA damage (!).
To me, this was all so interesting. It really reinforced the necessity of getting to bed early instead of watching old episodes of Mad Men. I found it fascinating that science proved Ayurvedic dictations again! The effects of time of day as well as the importance of sleep have been known for thousands of years. Ayurveda’s ideology coincides with the idea of circadian rhythm – each Dosha expresses itself at different times of the day, and this greatly influences our bodies.
Kapha is the strongest at 6am-10am and 6pm-10pm
Pitta is the strongest at 10am-2pm and 10pm-2am
Vata is the strongest at 2am-6am and 2pm-6pm
Here are some Ayurvedic recommendations for a healthy lifestyle:
– Waking up during Kapha time in the morning flushes out our lethargy in the morning (this accounts for why we feel like tired, heavy Kaphas when we over-sleep).
– Eating our biggest meal during Pitta time in the afternoon (lunch) will help us digest our food as our digestive fire is at its height with Pitta energy. Also, we should not eat heavily after sundown (approx. 6pm) as Kapha again is at its peak and will not move food through our systems well.
– Sleeping early during Kapha evening time (before 10pm) helps us sleep well and avoid being awake and active during Vata time (2am), a period during which our Vata energy will not allow our minds to be at peace.
If you have trouble falling asleep, you have excess Vata in your body. But if you fall asleep and wake up continuously, it is an excess Pitta (heat) issue.
So, while we may think that staying up late at night can help us get ahead by giving us more time to work and get things done, a lack of sleep actually damages our energetic balance and depletes our tissues. I know it’s easier said than done, but disciplining ourselves to turn off our mental activity will help us preserve our health. So put on your PJs a little earlier tonight, if not for proper doshic behaviour, then for more beautiful skin.
Kristen Ma is the co-owner of Pure + Simple Inc., a group of Holistic Spas with its own line of Natural Skincare and Mineral Make-up. She is an Ayurvedic Practitioner who has studied in Canada, the United States and India. She is also a Certified Esthetician with eight years of practical experience, having worked in Canada as well as Australia. Most recently, Kristen has authored “Beauty: Pure + Simple” which was published by Mc Arthur and Company. Kristen has written on the subject of Holistic Beauty for Vitality Magazine, Blink and Jasmine. She is also a regular contributor to B Magazine, Tonic and Sweat Equity Magazine. She blogs regularly at Holistic Vanity.