When a relationship manager of a financial organisation who ruefully said he doesn’t even have the time to holiday asked me what he should do, I replied, “Sleep or relax restfully at night.”
Calculating figures stimulates the brain. And we all juggle constantly with numbers whether it is to do with investments, prices, budgets, weights or measures. The mind needs its nightly rest from this daily onslaught. Otherwise, we set ourselves up for fatigue, anxiety, obesity, fear, depression, ulcers or high blood pressure. If you’ve ever felt like running away from life’s overwhelming complexities, remember it’s only your mind crying for its overdue uninterrupted dose of seven-and-half hours of blissful rest. Activities shimmer with rich, colourful meaning when set in the simple, sound framework of deep sleep.
Awaken to sleep’s magic. Interestingly, studies on sleep and its beneficial effects on health keep pouring in. The Jawbone study, in particular, caught my eye as it pinpoints 9.30 pm — my bedtime — as a good time to turn in. The early-to-bed wisdom is at least as old as Ayurveda and as contemporary as digital India. Over the years, influenced by the Dalai Lama who said, “Sleep is the best meditation,” I have steadily upped my schedule from 1 am to 10 pm. In the last one year, however, my body has urged, “Go to bed earlier.” I readily surrendered to its wisdom with astounding results, one of which interestingly corresponds with the Jawbone study.
Retire at 9.15 pm. Draw the curtains. Change into cool nightwear. Stretch like a tree reaching out to the sun allowing tension to exit.
I started eating less. It’s as if my brain was working at godspeed and bestowing on me the ‘full-and-fulfilled’ sensation sooner than later. The J study states that the 9.30 pm sleepers ate at least 220 calories less the next day as compared to the late nighters who packed in an additional 245 calories. This means we could put on about half a kg every fortnight — 26 kg per year. (Aren’t we already calculating?)
Rogues of hunger. I often advise my students that merely counting calorie-intake will not work unless it is also backed by sufficient sleep. They look at me with a “You’re kidding, right?” expression. The biological fact is: lack of sufficient sleep triggers the release and rise of the hormones cortisol and ghrelin to disproportionate levels and these twin rogues rev up those alleged “acute hunger pangs” that harass dieters. I’m also all for
Benjamin Franklin’s straightforwardness; he said, “It is silly and wasteful that people should live much by candlelight and sleep by sunshine.”
The stomach speaks. To continue my 9.30 pm bedtime saga: I felt disinclined to eat heavy foods — paneer, eggs, chicken. This comes from a one-time voracious meat-eater who called himself ‘Carni Arnie.’ I now eat cheese and soya sparingly. And actually look forward to cold, herb-sprinkled salads and thin soups — like they are manna from heaven. My stomach, in this transformation, spoke to me with the clarity and eloquence of the world’s best motivator. Later, I learnt that this was due to the rise of the hormone leptin that informs your brain that your stomach is full. It’s not that I exist solely on soups and salads. I eat balanced meals; but the difference is that conscious eating has become my way. Temptation has receded. My body has shed five kg (I didn’t even know I had any to shed.) If it could talk, my stomach would echo Hans Hofman’s wisdom: “The ability to simplify means to eliminate the unnecessary so that the necessary may speak.”
And the ‘necessary’ speaks, my friends. I’m filled with humming energy, exercise three hours a day against the one hour I did earlier. It’s because I’m a night vacationer diving deep into the silk of darkness and when I rest, heaven sleeps inside me.
The night remakes the day. The night is creative clay to re-mould the day. When you are lost in deep restfulness, you discover a new shining world the next morning. It mirrors your freshness. And when you slip out of your bed, you step into a miracle.
For writers, sitting is mandatory. You cannot write unless you are on your seat. Similarly, you cannot sleep unless you lie down. Hence, retire at 9.15 pm. Draw the curtains. Change into clean, cool, freshly-washed nightwear. Stretch like a tree reaching out to the sun allowing all tensions to seep out of your muscles. Then lie on your bed in the comforting darkness. Now, it is almost 9.30 pm. Be with your body as it slows down its rhythms naturally and gracefully.
Can’t sleep? Just rest. If you don’t fall asleep, don’t sweat. Just relax. Don’t try to sleep; trying keeps you awake. Instead, shut your eyes gently without letting your expectations weigh down your eyelids. Drop your expectations and surrender to the night completely. To surrender is to trust and abandon all thoughts so that the night’s wisdom seeps into our being. To surrender thus is to fall in love with the night and its potential and promise.
The night cradles us with the gentle love of a mother; its darkness a great luxurious refuge for the restless mind to rest in. As you understand and experience these truths, you develop a deep gratitude towards nature for designing this special quiet retreat. Here, nothing cries to be done. Even our ambitions and goals quieten and curl up like pet puppies in a cosy corner of our psyche.
Treasure the night. It is when you are most yourself, when you are a hundred per cent available to yourself. It’s the best time to leave the mental shores of negativity and cross over to equanimity, peace, acceptance, joy and gratitude. I have found these to be the best and most harmonious bedmates, the perfect pillows, the most magnificent of mattresses. Rest on them. The trick is to embrace sleep or non-sleep equally and joyfully. The less you worry, the deeper the rest. Restfulness is a rich fertile state from which spring great optimism, practical solutions and awe-inspiring insights.
The estate to cherish. “Choose sleep over extra profits,” says Warren Buffet. Numbers numb, rest refreshes. The busy accountant in each of us is precisely the one who needs the restful break. When all around me people were acquiring a second home, I made mine right here in the house I inhabit. I may be poorer in terms of real estate but hopefully richer in what I cherish — health, peace, hours of harmony, humour, love, meaning, exercise, meditation and music. And as thousands drive or fly to vacation spots, I find in this age of speed that there’s nothing more luxuriously restful than staying still. Ask Buffet. Or the Buddha himself.
(The writers are authors of the book Fitness for Life and teachers of the Fitness for Life programme.)