Manage Your Energy, Vitality and Happiness with Sleep
The amount of restful sleep you get can really determine the quality of your life and the level of vitality and health you feel as you carry out your daily activities and work towards your life goals. So, let’s look at the factors which disturb or disrupt the quality and quantity of restful sleep.
Our sleep patterns are guided by our circadian rhythms, the internal mechanism which tells us when to wake and when to sleep. Melatonin, the primary sleep hormone, is released into the brain between 1.5 and 2 hours after our eyes no longer detect light. This assists us to fall into a deep sleep. However, we often mess with these natural rhythms by having stimulants such as caffeine and alcohol at night, or watching TV or computer and mobile phone screens, which trick our body into thinking it is still daylight. In addition, we wake early with a loud alarm, which gets our heart racing before we are even out of bed, consume a quick cup of coffee which elevates the heart rate even more, then either get off to work or take care of family members, and leave the house within an hour or so of waking up. At the end of the day we stay up late trying to wind down and fuel the vicious circle which results in too little sleep of a poor quality.
Scientific studies have linked poor sleep patterns with increased risk of developing diabetes, obesity, heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, asthma and immune issues, so solving any sleep disorders and problems is essential for long-term health.
Creating Healthy Sleep Patterns
There are two parts to the solution: how you prepare for sleep, and how you wake up. Taking care of both parts of your day will dramatically improve the quality of your sleep as you re-educate your body.
There are two important steps you need to take during your day, to ensure that you are prepared for a good night’s sleep:
- Schedule your main meal for early in the day – breakfast or lunch, rather than dinner;
- Ensure you drink plenty of water before 6pm so you are well hydrated and don’t need to get up at night.
How to Prepare for Sleep
Have a light meal early in the evening (at least 2 hours before bed). Our body needs to use its energy for repair and restoration while we sleep. Try to avoid strong aromatic herbs and spices like garlic and ginger at night as they may stimulate your energy and brain. Minimise fluid intake after 6pm so you don’t need to get up to urinate during the night. Give yourself some time at night to “wind down” by reading a book, stretching out on the floor with relaxing music, meditating, or taking a warm bath by candlelight, so that your body and mind are preparing for sleep, and establish a bedtime that will give you plenty of sleep (at least 7-8 hours).
Healthy Waking Habits
When we wake in the morning our body can feel stiff and heavy. Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) theory incorporates the use of Tai Qi and Qi Gong exercises to gently wake up the body by promoting blood flow to the muscles, stimulating and loosening ligaments and tendons, and gently massaging our internal organs to release toxins and eliminate our waste products in preparation for a new day. You’ll be surprised how much extra energy you feel after just a brief sequence of these exercises.
Traditional Chinese Medicine and Insomnia
TCM has a long history of addressing sleep disorders and problems and waking issues. The constant cycle of waking up, rushing around busily, and then trying to get to sleep can be helped with TCM treatments and advice because they induce relaxation and calm the body and mind, so that you can rest more deeply at night.
Steve is a 41-year old stock broker working with international companies in overseas markets. He is often in the office from 7am-8:30pm and has an hour long commute each way. Since taking this role 3 years ago he has been plagued with sleep disturbances. Even though he gets up at 5am to go to the gym, he has difficulty falling asleep at 11pm because his mind is so busy jumping from one thought to another and he grinds his teeth so loudly that his wife often sleeps in another room.
When he presented to the clinic we discussed the busy-ness of his life and looked for ways to make changes that would help him relax. In-clinic acupuncture sessions were the only time he actually stopped and rested.
As we talked about his habits and office environment he shared that he often consumed 8 double espressos each day. Over the course of a few weeks he cut down to two single espressos per day, introduced some simple Qi Gong breathing exercises to help him wind down, and continued the acupuncture. His quality of sleep has improved and this wife stated that he doesn’t seem to be grinding his teeth anymore.
Rosie, a 68 year old retiree, has always had difficulty with sleeping. The pattern started when she had children and needed to be on alert in case they wanted her, and has continued even as her children grew up, moved out, and had kids of their own.
She gets up several times during the night, sometimes to go to the toilet, and wakes in the morning feeling heavy and tired. Recently, her left knee has been diagnosed with osteoarthritis, and she is often woken by its throbbing. Although she no longer works, she has a very active life which includes volunteering, horse riding instruction and riding, and pet sitting.
When she came into the clinic she was given a Chinese herbal formula to assist with sleeping and some basic Tai Qi exercises to improve the blood flow to her knee and assist in reducing the pain and stiffness. The herbs helped her sleep which then assisted with her energy, and the exercises helped her knee so much she joined a Tai Qi group for seniors and is now one of their lead instructors.
While these results cannot be generalised or exactly reproduced, these examples give readers an idea of what Chinese Medicine can do.