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Mental Wellness

Setting Your Ayurvedic Clock

Do I Really Have to Be Asleep by Ten?

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The Ayurvedic clock tells time in 4-hour dosha blocks. One of these is optimal for falling asleep; another for the best rest.

Several years ago, someone invited me to a late-night event on a weeknight. I politely said no. By the time I returned home and went to bed, it would have been past midnight. I knew my Ayurvedic clock would not accommodate it.

I am one of those cool kids (wink, wink) who’s asleep before 10 pm and awake at brahma muhurta, otherwise known as the “the Creator’s hour.” It begins one hour and 36 minutes before sunrise and lasts 48 minutes, concluding 48 minutes before sunrise. (There are 15 48-minute periods in an entire night; brahma muhurta is the 14th.) This is considered the best time for meditation and spiritual practice because the mind is fresh, tranquil, and free of thoughts. Going by this Ayurvedic clock, I simply couldn’t attend my friend’s weeknight event.

Winding Your Ayurvedic Clock

I haven’t always been so vigilant about being in bed before 10 pm. In my twenties, I partied late and thought weekends were for catching up on sleep. I still remember how sleeping in made me feel a little foggy and lethargic. Ayurveda explains why.

For over 5,000 years, Ayurveda has been emphasizing the importance of dinacharya (daily routine). It is designed to maintain and connect us to our circadian rhythms or internal body clocks. Dinacharya makes us understand the best time for our daily routines, such as waking up, exercising, relaxing, doing creative work, eating, sleeping, meditating, and much more. This is necessary to maintain balanced health. But when you’re young and feel invincible or rely heavily on fitting in and being accepted by others, you don’t often pause to think about what’s not working.

[Read: “The Risks of Disrupted Circadian Rhythms.”]

Although people generally have enough knowledge about the importance of a good diet and exercise, they’re more likely to ignore the importance of sleep, which can have drastic consequences on health. Between social media, overconsumption of news and shows, late-night gatherings, and labels (“night owls are cool!”), we mess around with our body clock.

The Perils of Sleep Deprivation

You probably already know that not getting enough quality sleep affects your ability to concentrate, can age you more quickly, and may even increase the risk of diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and stroke. Did you also know that sleep deprivation can make you more prone to accidents, cognitive dysfunction, and depression and that messing around with your sleep cycle can disrupt the hormonal balance in your body?

A 2018 study found that night owls were nearly twice as likely as early risers to have a psychological disorder and 30 percent more likely to have diabetes. Their risk for respiratory disease was 23 percent higher and 22 percent higher for gastrointestinal disease.

You get it: sleep is a powerful force and good sleep dispenses a multitude of life-changing benefits—from making us more productive to prolonging our lives. But did you know that the time you head to bed is one of the most important aspects of good sleep?

Tic-Toc: Counting Your 4-Hour Dosha Block

Ayurveda (in Sanskrit, the “science of life”) sees the day differently. According to Ayurveda, the day is broken into six four-hour blocks—one day block and one night block for each of the three doshas: Vata, Pitta, and Kapha. We need to keep our daily rhythms set to the age-old Ayurvedic clock, so we can live a mindful, healthy, and balanced life.

Let’s begin with the Kapha time of day, because time periods always begin with Kapha dosha—6 am to 10 am. Kapha time flows into Pita time, which begins at 10 am and continues until 2 pm. Pitta governs the time of productivity, the time that the sun is highest in the sky, and there is more heat in the natural world. The Pitta time of day fades as the Vata time of day begins, at 2 pm. Vata time continues until 6 pm, as the day gives way to night.

Vata, which is made of the elements air and space (ether), governs the time of transition. As the cycle continues, and we move towards night, times ruled by the doshas repeat.

  • Kapha: 6 pm to 10 pm.
  • Pitta (the time of internal cleansing): 10 pm to 2 am
  • Vata: 2 am to 6 am
Transition to Pitta time

According to Ayurvedic principles, the best time to go to bed is right around (or just before) 10 pm, when Kapha gives way to Pitta. After all, unwinding slowly is exactly what Kapha time is for. Kapha is slow, stable, and dull, and has that same kind of influence on our bodies and minds, which is ideal for falling asleep.

I remember my mom could barely keep her eyes open beyond 9:15 pm, and we would all tease her, calling her the early bird. Interestingly, I would feel sleepy around the same time, but my young, rebellious, FOMO-struck self would drink copious amounts of chai or cappuccino to defy sleep. Eventually, my unnatural sleep habits caught up with me.

[Read: “10 Nighttime Routines for Peaceful Sleep.”]

Now I know that sleep between the hours of 10 pm and 2 am (Pitta time) is the most beneficial for our nervous system. In his 2016 book, The Grain Brain Whole Life Plan, neurologist Dr. David Perlmutter writes that after 10 pm the body metabolizes a lot of waste products, and from 11 pm to 2 am, the immune system recharges itself.

What About a Second Wind?

Pitta’s qualities are hot, sharp, light, and intense. It will digest the day and make sense of the emotional and mental events. Because this is such a fiery, productive time, this is why many people say they get their second wind late at night. Can you see how none of these traits are conducive to falling asleep? Ayurveda considers the quality and quantity of our sleep to be as essential to our health and wellbeing as our dietary habits. Both Western science and Ayurveda agree that the hours of sleep before midnight are more restorative. So, be in bed by 10 pm!

If you have a hard time falling asleep between the hours of 10 pm and 2 am (and often find yourself with late-night snacks and work or in front of the television or mindlessly scrolling your phone/tablet), try pushing your bedtime before 10pm so you’re resisting that burst of energy. And if this form of insomnia persists, talk to your health practitioner.

Still not tired? Check out these 4 ways to create a healthy sleep schedule.