Ayurveda, the science of life, places a primary focus on the importance of circadian rhythms in one’s individual health and wellness. It is essential to maintain one’s health; one must follow the circadian rhythms in day-to-day life. As the father of modern medicine, Hippocrates, rightly said: “The natural force within each of us is the greatest healer of the disease.” Thomas Alva Edison said, “The doctor of the future will give no medicine, but will interest her or his patients in the care of human frame, in a proper diet, and in the cause and prevention of disease.”
According to the World Health Organization, about 2/3rd of people in rural areas of India use Ayurveda to meet their primary health care.
The Ayurvedic system of medicine is based on three bioenergetics (doshas) – Vata, Pitta, Kapha, and their influence very closely impacts health and disease manifestation. These doshas are composed of the five elements – Vata is made up of air and space elements; Pitta is of fire and water elements; Kapha is of water and earth elements. These five elements appear in human physiology as follows: the space elements represent in the body as channels of circulation, air element corresponds to the gaseous exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide, breathing, etc.; fire elements can are observed in the human body as chemical reactions, enzymatic activity, and digestion; water elements represent fluids and ionic constituents, and earth element is providing structure to the entire physiology.
According to Vedic scriptures, “Yada Pinde, Tatha Bramhande” — as is the cosmic body, so is the human body.
Vata functions at the cellular level as functions of the nucleus and somatic level as all the neurological functions; it is responsible for movement, transportation, and communication. Pitta functions at the cellular level in the mitochondria and the somatic level as all hormonal and enzymatic actions; it is responsible for digestion, metabolism, transformation. Finally, Kapha functions at the cellular level functions of protoplasm and the somatic level, all secretory and immunological activities, and is responsible for structure, cohesion, and binding in the physiology.
In the clinical application of doshas, Vata’s quality of dryness represents in the physiology as emaciation, broken or hoarse voice, insomnia, constipation, etc. Its light quality manifests as weight loss, irregular digestion. Vata’s mobile quality creates instability, constantly moving joints and eyes, a talkative nature. Its cold quality makes for intolerance to cold and poor circulation. Finally, Vata’s coarse and brittle quality creates rough, dry skin, brittleness of nails, and its non-slimy quality produces cracking joints (crepitus).
The Pitta dosha qualities appear in physiology as follows. Slight oiliness creates smooth and oily skin; heat and warmth provide intolerance to heat and excessive hunger, thirst, skin problems, early wrinkles, and graying of hair. Pitta’s sharp quality provides physical strength and sharp digestion. Its sour and pungent quality provides less progeny, low sperm count. Pitta’s liquid and flowing quality creates a tendency of sweet Nature, loose bowel movements.
Kapha dosha qualities manifest in physiology as follows. Heavy quality leads to a stable gait and a tendency to have a stocky build, weight gain. Its cold quality provides slow, mild hunger, thirst, and perspiration. Kapha’s soft quality leads to a pleasing appearance, smooth complexion. Oily quality creates unctuous skin and joints. Kapha’s sweet quality provides sweetness of speech and behavior, and its stable and steady rate makes for slowness to anger and slowness to initiate actions.
Factors that aggravate and influence individual dosha imbalances
Vata dosha is exacerbated by avoidance of tranquil, warm, moist places; eating dry, rough, light, frozen or leftover foods, eating on the run; excessive exposure to dry, cold, cloudy weather; excessive wakefulness (staying awake at night, insufficient sleep); fear, grief, worry, anxiety, agitation, anger, sadness, misery, mental shock; irregularity in daily and seasonal routines; mental or physical exertion (excessive work, exercise, traveling, speaking); never lubricating the body; watching too much television, etc.
Pitta dosha is aggravated by anger, hatred, jealousy, passion; avoidance of cool, fresh, peaceful places; drinking excessive amounts of alcohol, smoking tobacco; excessive consumption of tomatoes, chilies, raw onions, sour, salty foods, and yogurt; engaging in frustrating activities; excessive exposure to heat, sunshine; intake of excess red meat and salted fish; using drugs, especially cocaine or speed.
Kapha dosha is aggravated by avoidance of vital, warm, dry areas; eating dessert every day, especially rich ones such as cheesecake or ice cream, overeating; excessive rest and sleep (sleeping in the daytime, after meals or too much); heavy, buttery, cold, sweet, sour, saline, slimy food; insufficient mental and physical exercise or work; living on potato chips & beer; using drugs, especially sedatives & tranquilizers for recreation purpose.
According to Ayurvedic Medicine – the human frame is classified based on the permutation and combination of predominant doshas, such as – Vata dosha, Pitta dosha, Kapha dosha, Vata Pitta, Vata Kapha, Pitta Vata, Pitta Kapha, Kapha Vata, Kapha Pitta, and Tridosha constitutions.
The characteristics of an individual based on dosha predominance are as follows. Vata constitution – light, thin build; acts quickly; averse to cold weather and foods; irregular digestive power, appetite; quick to learn, quick to forget; tendency to worry; constipation; vivacious, always moving; light, interrupted sleep, about 6 hours; tends to fatigue, less physical stamina; dry skin; prominent joints, tendons, and veins.
Pitta constitution exhibit average build; acts with medium speed; averse to hot weather; strong digestion, strong appetite; medium time to learn; medium memory; tends to anger, regular elimination, some loose or frequent stools, sound sleep, medium length, enterprising, sharp, reddish complexion, moles and freckles, early graying.
Kapha constitution is solid, heavier build, slow, methodical, averse to damp weather, sluggish digestion, mild appetite, slow to learn, slow to forget; tranquil, steady, regular elimination, heavy, long sleep, stamina, strength, seek emotional comfort through eating, oily, smooth skin, wake up slowly, lie in bed a long time, and often require coffee in the morning.
The influence of circadian rhythms through the doshas
Benjamin Franklin said – “Early to bed and early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise.”
Early morning from 2:00 AM – 6:00 AM is the Vata period and is the ideal time to wake up and follow the daily elimination. Vata increases again, so this is a crucial part of the sleep cycle. This is the time when the brain drains toxins into tiny lymph vessels. Many people find it difficult to sleep during these hours. The sense is that they have too much energy, but the reality is most sleep concerns are a result of chronic exhaustion. The nervous system needs the energy to sedate itself and fall asleep. In Ayurvedic practice, we never give sedatives for sleep. Instead, we provide deep rejuvenation herbs to help rebuild the nervous system to reconnect with circadian rhythms. This is the best time to sleep deeply and naturally, waking up before sunrise. 2:00 PM to 6:00 PM is another Vata period given to increased energy, ideal for creative ideas and relaxation. Again, Vata increases, corresponding to the air and ether elements and winter. This is the best time for mental and creative energy, as the nervous system is more active. Craving sweets at this time indicates exhaustion, blood sugar issues, poor digestion, or that you didn’t eat a good lunch. This is the best time for a light supper, as heavy suppers do not digest well.
Pitta period is mid-day between 10:00 AM – 2:00 PM, an ideal time to eat a healthy, balanced meal and improve metabolism. Eating earlier in the day, including a good breakfast and lunch, has been linked to numerous health benefits, including reduced cholesterol and stress. If you skip lunch, as many people do, the circadian digestive clock still goes off. Hydrochloric acid (agni) in the stomach is still produced, and if there is no food to digest, this can predispose the gut to acid irritation and inflammation down the road. This is the one meal you do not want to miss. Night from 10:00 PM – 2:00 AM is the ideal time to sleep and improve tissue metabolism; Pitta increases again. Many folks get a second wind during this time of night. It is common to be sleepy at 8:00 or 9:00 PM (in the Kapha time of night), but by 10:00, you feel ready to go until 2:00 AM. It is pitta time, and one can get all fired up! Late night, however, is not the best time to try to change the world from your computer; it is the best time to be asleep. During these hours, the liver goes into detoxification mode to prepare the body for the next day. If you are up late regularly, you will disturb this circadian rhythm, and the liver will not effectively detoxify you.
The Kapha morning period 6:00 AM – 10:00 AM is ideal for exercising, eating a light breakfast, and improving creativity and focus. Scientific studies show morning exercise lowers stress hormones, reflecting why so many people prefer exercising in the morning. It makes the whole day feel better. Early is also the time to eat a good-sized breakfast, as it not only provides you a good source of fuel for the day, but studies find eating a healthy-sized breakfast helps reduce obesity and disease.From 6:00 PM– 10:00 PM, Kapha increases again, and it is the ideal time to have a lighter dinner and a natural way to go to sleep. This time, the heaviness is not for physical labor but rather to settle the body and mind in preparation for rest. It is the time when cortisol (the stress-handling hormone) drops.
The influence of circadian rhythms on doshas and seasons
Late autumn to winter is predominant of Vata dosha. Mid-summer to early autumn is dominant of Pitta dosha. Spring to early summer is predominantly Kapha dosha. Respective disorders will be more during these seasons.
Circadian system on digestive health
The circadian system controls diurnal rhythms in gastrointestinal digestion, absorption, motility, hormones, barrier function, and the gut microbiota. The master clock, located in the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN) region of the hypothalamus, is synchronized or entrained by the light-dark cycle and, in turn, synchronizes clocks present in peripheral tissues and organs. Your body has a master clock set in a control center of your brain. It runs your sleep-wake cycle. This circadian clock gets set primarily by light and darkness running through the eyes to the brain, along with meal and exercise schedules. Feeding time is the most critical synchronizer of peripheral clocks; gut hormones, notably insulin and IGF1, are essential for communicating feeding time phase information to peripheral clocks.
Time-restricted eating, timed exercise, and Chrono biotics — agents that alter the circadian time system’s phase, amplitude, or period — hold promise for preventing or treating Chrono disruption and its associated diseases. The circadian clock has an impact on many aspects of our physiology. For example, this clock helps regulate sleep patterns, feeding behavior, hormone release, blood pressure, body temperature, and a large proportion of our genes.
Final take-home points:
- Support Nature and Nature will support you.
- Follow the biorhythms of Nature.
- Follow the guidelines of the season.
- Eat according to season, age, health condition, six tastes in each meal. Connect the mind-body.
- Enjoy life.
- Be happy. Don’t worry.