Ayurveda 101: Doshas + Circadian Rhythm

By now in this Ayurveda 101 series, we’ve developed a deep understanding of the Mahabhutas, their archetypal qualities, and how they show in every single aspect of our lives.

Just as the energies of the elements are represented in color, sound, food, aroma, etc., so too are they found in the cycles and rhythms of nature—specifically, in relation to the hours of the day and the seasons of the year. In this article, we’ll focus on the former and save the latter for next time.


What is circadian rhythm?

The wisdom of Ayurveda extends beyond our understanding of our personal selves to the 24-hour period of one calendar day, referred to as the circadian rhythm. This rhythm is observed widely in all aspects of nature, including human beings. It provides both an explanation and foundation for the pace of our mind/body functions and necessities. It is our own internal clock that allows us to align with the cycles of nature to feel more balanced, healthy, whole, and supported.

The rhythm of the sun within a 24-hour period is a familiar example of how our body desires to align with nature. When we sense the sunrise and begin to take in light, generally our physiology sends signals that it is time to wake up. Likewise, as sunset approaches and day fades to night, our system is triggered to slowly relax, unwind, and prepare for sleep.

While certain lifestyles, learned behaviors, and cultural influences may have shifted us away from this particular flow, if we took a true retreat into nature with zero manmade distractions, we would be naturally rising and resting with the sun in no time.


The Hours Of Each Dosha

Ayurveda teaches us that the doshas lend their energy at various times throughout this circadian rhythm as well. Just as the daily dance between light and darkness, vata, pitta, and kapha rotate in the spotlight with one another every 4 hours.

  • Vata mobilizes the 2-6 hours, both am and pm.
  • Pitta takes charge of the hours of 10-2, midday and midnight.
  • Kapha contains the energy of 6-10, again both morning and eve.

The archetypal energies of each dosha are quite different, as you know, so understanding how they apply to these periods of time can truly help us align with the natural rhythms of the five great elements to get the absolute most of our day and promote an overall sense of peace, productivity, and satisfaction.

Let’s explore a day in its entirety to understand how to best harness this information with conscious awareness.


Vata // 2 a.m.–6 a.m. 

The dosha that governs movement, change, and creativity is most active here in the hours before sunrise. If you are an active dreamer, you’ll likely notice a majority of them take place in the pre-dawn, as our imaginations run wild. Movement is stirring and the body is preparing to mobilize and eliminate all that you have metabolized during sleep. Those with overactive vata may even find themselves waking quite often during these hours for a bathroom run.

While it may seem counterintuitive to our desire for "a full night's sleep," it is best to wake up before the clock strikes 6 a.m. Vata fills us with energy and you’ll happily notice this ripple throughout the entire day. As we are steeped in the energy of Space and Air, we are also most light and connected to the higher realms during the early morning. It is a fantastic time for meditation or other spiritual practices.


Kapha // 6 a.m.–10 a.m.

If we choose to dismiss the idea of rising with energetic vata, we wake to the slow and steady pace of kapha. As such, it can be very challenging to get things moving in the morning if we begin on this unhurried pace. You may notice you feel tired regardless of hours slept because Kapha is simply in no rush to burst forward into the day.

Following suit of Kapha nature, your digestion is quite slow during these hours as well. While breakfast most certainly is an important facet of the day, remember that your digestive fire is not burning brightly yet and you should be gentle with it. Eat a modest, nutritious, easy-to-digest meal and drink plenty of warm water and/or ginger tea to get the fire stoked again. The earthy, structured energy of kapha makes the morning an excellent time to get organized and dedicate yourself to the more systematized, mundane tasks of the day. Kapha will absolutely relish in checking things off the to-do list!


Pitta // 10 a.m.–2 p.m.

Time to get things revved up for the day! We all know the sun is strongest in the middle of the day and, since pitta is governed by the element of Fire, the same is true for this dosha. Everything in our mind and body is lit up, turned on, and ready to take action. This is the perfect time to have your largest meal of the day because the digestive fire is well-fueled and ready to metabolize with ease—extracting the nectar from the food that you eat and effortlessly releasing the toxicity that remains.

As this intensity is reflected in the mind as well, this is the perfect time of day to complete tasks/meetings/planning that requires strategic critical thinking and confident decision-making. We generally think quickest and clearest during pitta hours and are ready to make directive progress towards our goals. Avoid excessive physical activity midday because our processes are already working on overdrive and we do not need to add extra heat or momentum.


Vata // 2 p.m.–6 p.m.

The second daily appearance the beloved dreamer, vata. Our imagination and creativity are beginning to reawaken and are asking for room to expand. After a morning of organizing with kapha and making midday progress with pitta, this spontaneous energy wants permission to roam free again. You may notice that you get a little restless in the afternoon and find it challenging to focus on tasks. That’s because vata is the dosha of movement and change, and it is resisting the continuation of the routine from previous hours. As much as your schedule and responsibilities will allow, dedicate this time to creative projects, big-picture thinking, innovation, and exercise to give this playful energy an outlet.


Kapha // 6 p.m.–10 p.m.

As Kapha energy makes its return, we are given permission to unwind, relax, and indulge in simple, easy pleasures with those we love. This dosha is all about home, nurturing, support, community…so evening is the perfect opportunity to enjoy a hobby, get cozy around the TV or a good book, and enjoy a delicious meal with those who are nearest and dearest. Remember to keep supper light, as our digestive fire has begun to simmer down for the day! To the very best of our ability, we should attempt to be in bed with lights out as close to 10 p.m. as possible. Though kapha energy is a real bear to wake with, it provides the ideal pace to lull us into a deep and restful sleep.


Pitta // 10 p.m.–2 a.m.

Remember, pitta is the great processor, doing everything with intensity and extracting the absolute MOST out of everything we give our bodies. Such is true for sleep. Our bodies are able to “sleep with more intensity” during the pitta hours…meaning every moment is more restful, rejuvenating and detoxifying. If we manage to drift into rest during kapha time, pitta can provide deep revitalization, preparing us to wake easefully with vata at sunrise. A caution with nighttime pitta energy is that our mind/body will reactivate with a fierceness, no matter what we are doing—ready to process…Something. Anything. So if we are not feeding it sleep, it will move to other activity. It can be quite difficult to fall asleep once pitta has reactivated in the conscious mind.



Think about the current rhythms, structure and schedule of your day. Where are you already naturally aligning with the circadian rhythm of the doshas? How can you make subtle shifts to harness more of the potentiality of the energy that’s available to you?


Drop a comment below and let us know what you’re experimenting with as you continue to explore the science of life of Ayurveda.