This post was last updated on August 26, 2023 by srinivas krishnaswamy
Afternoon sleep, also known as the power nap or cat nap has long been hailed as a secret to increased productivity and high energy levels. Stealing some afternoon sleep is especially a favorite productivity hack of early risers.
A big question that bothers many of us is this – is afternoon sleep good or bad ? We will give you the comprehensive answer based on Authentic Ayurvedic textual references
Night time sleep has been extensively researched across the world in the last few decades, as a result of a sharp increase in sleep disorders. A primary reason for poor night sleep is the consistent disturbance of the circadian rhythm , also called “body clock”.
The Circadian rhythm is the natural, internal biological process by which the body controls our states of wakefulness and sleep. This circadian rhythm is directly linked to the movement of the sun , and over a 24-hour period, the body controls the urge to sleep at night and to remain awake during the day. When we disturb the rhythm, by forcing the body to stay up late at night, by drinking very stimulating beverages or by overuse of electronic devices, we get lower quality or less sleep. Digital Detox and digital limits are extremely important to set for everyone. Please read our earlier post on ayurvedic detox strategies as well.
So the sleep-deprived person has to compensate the next day with daytime sleep or suffer poor energy levels. Medical journals and scientific studies are a little more balanced about this. Western research is now beginning to understand what Ayurveda always knew: an afternoon nap does not help everyone. In fact in many people it can be counter productive. And the timing and the duration of the nap have a lot to do with the benefits you may experience.
The Ayurvedic Triad of Good health : Sleep is a part of this list
Ayurveda is an ancient, holistic and well thought through science. Acharya Charaka , one of the foremost ayurevdic gurus ,states emphatically in the Charaka Samhita, that the three supporting pillars ( upastambhas) of life are Ahara ( correct food) , Swapna ( sleep) & Brahmacharya ( proper control and utilization of sexual urges). When these three pillars of life function correctly, we reach our full life span and our body has a good appearance, growth and strength.
The Acharya in a later chapter mentions that good sleep bestows happiness, nourishment, strength, virility, knowledge and life. On the contrary, poor sleep causes misery, emaciation, weakness, sterility, ignorance and ultimately death.
So it is very clear that we need to get good sleep at night while following other important rules like waking up at Brahma Muhurta ( a period of 48 minutes, that starts 96 minutes before sunrise in your location).
However due to the vagaries of life including disease, work stress , or poor lifestyle habits, we may need to fall back on afternoon sleep, to compensate for poor night sleep.
Is afternoon sleep good or bad for healthy adults ?
Afternoon sleep or habitual day time sleeping is not a good habit for healthy adults in the normal course of life. There are some special disease cases when the Ayurvedic acharyas prescribe daytime sleep as a therapy but in general it is to be avoided as it is a cause of disease. We will learn further about the special cases and individuals who can indulge in daytime sleep.
Those who violate the rule of correct sleeping and indulge in afternoon sleeping can be at risk for the following diseases as per Acharya Charaka – these are headache, timidness, heaviness of the body, loss of digestive power, Halimaka ( type of jaundice),oedema, anorexia, nausea, rhinitis, hemicrania, urticaria, eruptions , abscess, pruritis, drowsiness, coughing, throat diseases, impairment of memory and intelligence, obstruction of the circulating channels of the body, fever and weakness of the sensory and motor organs.
The Qualities of afternoon sleep as per Ayurveda
As expected, Ayurvedic texts have defined separately the fundamental nature of afternoon sleep as opposed to that of night time sleep already explained above.
Acharya Charaka in his textbook, Sutrasthana sections,Chapter 21, Shloka 50 says this about sleep :
“Remaining awake at night is Rooksha (dehydrating, causing dryness of the system) while sleeping in the daytime is Snigdha ( unctuous , increasing kapha). Sleep in a sitting posture in neither Ruksa (drying) nor Abhisyanda ( excessively secretory)”
The shloka above is filled with startling insights which needs to be read several times to appreciate its full import and usefulness in our lives. Firstly ,staying up late at night is best avoided in general ( except in treatment of certain kapha-disorders). It is extremely vata aggravating and drying for the body. For people who are coming off severe ratri jaagratha (keeping awake at night), like night shift employees, we suggest snigdha (oily) therapies like a regular abhyanga.
The second insight crucially tells us that sleeping in the daytime, in a completely supine position , is kapha aggravating and has Snigdha guna or increases moisture and oiliness in the body. This gives us a clear direction to analyze why afternoon sleep is mostly prohibited and the special cases when afternoon sleep is permitted. THe last part of the shloka gives us an excellent method to take a power-nap or catnap in the afternoon.
Ayurvedic Hack for afternoon sleep /powernap for Healthy Adults
Based on the last line of the earlier Shloka from the Charaka Samhita, it is clear that sleeping in a sitting posture has a neutral effect on our doshas. So if you are a healthy adult, for whom afternoon sleep in the full supine position is not allowed, then it is a good idea to take a powernap in a seated posture.
You can do this by placing your head on your work desk if you are at work. At home, if you have a reclining chair with a slight incline ( an easy chair), that is also a good option for a quick afternoon nap that does not aggravate kapha dosha.
Afternoon Sleep should be Avoided in the following cases
Acharya Charaka further gives us the various contra-indications and problems that arise due to afternoon sleep.
- In all seasons of the year except Greeshma ( hot summer), afternoon sleep should be avoided by all healthy individuals
- Those who are overweight, obsese, who are addicted to consuming unctuous (oily) foods, suffering from kapha-aggravation diseases & suffering artificial poisoning should AVOID afternoon sleep. So as a general rule, afternoon sleep is NOT good for weight loss.
- Sleep is to be avoided in the day time immediately after taking lunch
Do you qualify for an Afternoon Nap ? The Ayurvedic checklist
- In the two months of Greeshma (the hot summer as per traditional Indian calendar), daytime sleep is permitted for all including healthy individuals
- In all the seasons of the year, those who are very exhausted due to the following exertions , afternoon sleep is permitted. So those who are very exhausted from excessive singing, studies, alcoholism, sex , elimination therapies, lifting heavy weights & walking very long distances can indulge in afternoon sleep
- Daytime sleep is prescribed in the following diseases – phthsis, wasting, excess thirst, diarrhoea, colic pain, dyspnea, hiccuping and insanity.
- Daytime sleep is also prescribed for the following categories of the people – the very old and the very young ( babies) , very weak and emaciated, those exhausted by long journeys, injuries , late nights , fear and anger.
- Finally the Acharya also mentions that those who have a day time sleep habit but do NOT fall into above categories should give up this habit gradually and not suddenly.
In all the special cases mentioned above, daytime sleep provides equilibrium to the dhatus( tissues) , provides strength and increases kapha-nourishes the depleted organs.
The Ayurvedic rule to make up for lost sleep
Acharya Ksarapani, one of the original six disciples of Sage Atri, the father of Ayurveda, has given this rule to compensate for lost night sleep – If a person loses a certain number of hours of sleep at night , then he can compensate this by sleeping for Half the number of hours lost the next day during the daytime. It is preferable to get this compensatory sleep on the next day BEFORE eating food on an empty stomach, as it is best to avoid sleep immediately after eating.
Let us illustrate this with a use case from a work from home (WFH) scenario – Let us say you normally get 7 hours of sleep between 11 PM – 6 AM on a regular basis. During a stressful deadline, you work through the night till 4 AM and then again get up at 7 AM, to start your day. So you have lost a net amount of 4 hours of sleep compared to your usual quota of sleep.
As per Acharya Ksarapani’s rule, you can then sleep for an extra amount of 2 hours and wake up at 9 am instead of 7 am as you would normally do.
If it is not possible to do this, you can try sleeping before your lunch and after a very small breakfast which is completely digested. So you could log out of work between 11 AM and 1 PM for a two hour nap and then proceed for lunch.
This method ensures your ideal recovery due to the stressful loss of sleep at night. It is easier to illustrate this example in a WFH scenario, but things are more tricky if you have to work in a physical office the next day. If you are low on sleep and do not have access to any place to take a nap at your workplace, then you could perhaps just put your head down on your desk before lunch and nap for sometime , as much time as permitted by office etiquette and culture.
Summary of Ayurvedic Rules for Afternoon Sleep
- The qualities of afternoon sleep are fundamentally different from night sleep
- If you are a healthy adult, then by and large you should avoid afternoon sleep ( except in certain rare conditions)
- A simple hack as per the ayurvedic texts for a safe afternoon nap for healthy adults is to sleep in a seated position, in a chair.
- Afternoon sleep is recommended for babies, the very old and those who are very exhausted from heavy work
- If for some reason you could not sleep at night, apply Acharya Ksarapani’s rule of half to make up for sleep the next day
And we also hope that this post gave you a clear answer to the important question of whether afternoon sleep is good or bad for health