The Ideal Schedule
The dinacharya practices can help synchronize our circadian rhythms and enhance mental acuity and function. Ayurveda states that there are two cycles within a 24-hour period: 6:00 A.M. to 6:00 P.M., and 6:00 P.M to 6:00 A.M. Within each of these cycles, there are 4-hour periods of universal energies that influence our biochemical being, called “doshas.”
Here is a comparative analysis between the circadian rhythms observed in chronobiology and ayurveda’s description of this 24-hour rhythm.
2:00 A.M. to 6:00 A.M. – Ideal Time to Meditate
Ayurveda teaches that the ideal time to wake is from one-half hour to two hours before sunrise. Chronobiology observes that cortisol levels naturally increase with the rising sun and stimulate a natural desire to wake. In ayurveda, sunrise is also the best time to meditate or engage in prayer. The moment the sun comes over the horizon is a sacred time, when we are more open to divine insight and deep meditation. According to the study of circadian rhythms, 4:00 A.M. to 9:00 A.M. is the best time for meditation, spiritual practice, or lovemaking. This is when oxytocin is highest in our body. Oxytocin is a hormone that increases relationship connectivity, bonding, love, and openness. It is mostly known to rise in women after childbirth, induces peace and contentment, and is increased during meditation.
6:00 A.M. to 10:00 A.M. – Ideal Time To Exercise
According to ayurveda, this is the best time for exercise, breakfast, and a shower. It advises not to engage in intense mental tasks, as metabolism is still rising to full function. According to circadian rhythm research, 9:00 A.M. to 11:00 A.M. is a period of heightened creativity and increased cortisol levels; thus, it is an ideal time to engage in tasks that require creativity and thinking outside of the box, but not direction and discrimination.
10:00 A.M. to 2:00 P.M. – Eat the Largest Meal Midday
Ayurveda teaches this is the best time of day to engage in tasks that require mental focus and intensity. This is also when our digestive strength becomes strongest, so it is best to eat our largest meals at this time. Circadian rhythm research says that the period between 11:00 A.M. and 2:00 P.M. is the best time of day to engage in tasks that require mental focus and concentration. Melatonin is at its lowest now, and the ability to take on multiple tasks is at its peak. This time of day occurs right before our lowest energy point of the day, which begins around 2:00 P.M. and ends at 6:00 P.M. Ayurveda teaches that we should eat lunch prior to then, between 10:00 and 2:00 when our internal fire is highest.
2:00 P.M. to 6:00 P.M. – Ideal Time to Rest
Many of us feel a dip in energy at this time of day. Ayurveda teaches this transition time can be vulnerable for some of us, and it is a good time to take a rest if possible, and to restore energy and vitality. Many cultures have done this for thousands of years, as can still be witnessed in areas of Europe and the Mediterranean, where shops close after lunch for siesta and family time. Our circadian rhythm goes into a natural period of downtime from 2:00 P.M. to 6:00 P.M. Cortisol levels drop, making us more easygoing and passive and less able to concentrate on intense tasks.
6:00 P.M. to 10:00 P.M. – The Smallest Meal of the Day
Ayurveda teaches to eat a small dinner between 6:00P.M. and 7:00 P.M. Digestive strength is at its lowest at this time, and it is best to avoid a heavy meal because it cannot be digested efficiently and will impair sleep cycles. Studies on circadian rhythms show that our melatonin levels are at an all time low between 6:00 P.M. and 8:00 P.M., and then start to rise at 8:00 P.M. Research shows that eating interrupts the secretion of melatonin.
10:00 P.M. to 2:00 A.M. – Ideal Time for Sleep
Ayurvedically, if we do not sleep before 10:00 P.M., we set conditions to prompt a ‘second wind’ and we accumulate an additional burst of energy. This is also the time of night that our liver regenerates, cleanses the blood, and engages in several other important processes. The liver stimulates energy that makes us feel awake. According to chronobiology, we can affect the function of our liver through irregular eating and sleep schedule. Glutathione and other important antioxidants secreted by the liver occur at higher rates at night starting at 10:00 PM. Consistent interruptions in the liver oscillators are potentially dangerous and contribute to several imbalances and diseases. Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania hypothesize that these circadian rhythm imbalances could contribute to the development of diabetes, reduce the ability to lose weight, and cause fatty liver.