Do you know that awesome feeling when you get into bed, fall right to sleep, stay asleep all night, and wake up feeling refreshed?
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, such as:-
- having difficulty falling asleep;
- waking up in the early hours of the morning;
- only having a light and restless sleep:
- not being able to sleep at all.
Scientific studies have apparently 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.
Prescribed pharmaceutical medications may have unintended side effects, and perhaps even lead to dependency, where patients are unable to sleep without their prescription pills, and may be tempted to take more than advised when sleep remains elusive. Giving up these pills at a later date could prove to be quite difficult. This is where the natural alternative of TCM can be useful.
Creating Healthy Sleep Patterns
There are two parts to the solution: how you prepare for sleep, and then 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, and limit potential diuretics such as lemon, ginger, hibiscus, oats, cabbage, tomatoes and cucumber. Stay away from sugary foods which may give you a sudden energy boost. Minimise foods that are are rich in tyramine like aged cheese, cured meats, soy products, fava beans and overripe fruits because tyramine causes the body to release norepinephrine which is a stimulant. No acidic foods if you suffer from acid reflux and remember that fatty foods take longer to digest. Even iced drinks before bed can can boost your metabolism and keep you awake. Your digestive system needs a chance to rest too.
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 bed time that will give you plenty of sleep (at least 7-8 hours).
Set a bedtime. it’s important to have a plan for sleep. Just like you plan your day to be productive and to get things done, you also need to plan your relaxation, self-care, rest and sleep. So plan to have everything done by your set bedtime.
Make your bedroom an electronics free zone. This means no television and not even a mobile phone – buy yourself an alarm clock instead. You also need to stop surfing the internet, checking emails, looking at social media, using a computer or playing electronic games at least 30 minutes before your set bedtime because these can all interfere with your natural sleep cycles.
No alcohol or nicotine before bed. Alcohol may relax you and help you to fall asleep, but can also disturb your sleep patterns and limit the amount of REM sleep. Nicotine is a stimulant which can keep you up and wake you up at night. Avoid any caffeine in the late afternoon or evening.
Is your bed comfortable or do you need a new pillow or mattress? Is the room temperature right for sleeping?
Use repetitive behaviours before going to bed. Get you lunch ready to take to work. Make a list of what needs to be done tomorrow and decide what you are going to wear. Dim the lights, reflect on your day, make a gratitude list, play some soft music and meditate. Lavender is an aromatic herb with a soothing scent. Perhaps some deep breathing exercises and stretches. A relaxing cup of warm milk, or a herbal tea such as chamomile or valerian root to help you to sleep These are all bedtime rituals for winding down at the end of the day. You could also consider keeping a sleep journal to record what helps with a good nights sleep and what doesn’t work.
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.
Regular exercise during the day may also help you to sleep better at night. Whereas a burst of activity before bedtime can discourage your body from falling asleep. Choose something that you can easily incorporate into your day, such as walking up an extra flight of stairs or getting off the bus one stop sooner.
Traditional Chinese Medicine and Insomnia
Chinese medicine treatment may be able to assist with the stress of the constant cycle of waking up, rushing around busily, and then trying to get to sleep. From a Traditional Chinese Medicine perspective, sleeplessness can be caused by various deficiencies or excesses within the body, such as stagnant energy in the liver, the accumulation of phlegm in the body, a yin deficiency in the spleen or kidneys, or a depleted gallbladder – every individual is different, and there is no “one size fits all”. By reducing the excesses or deficiencies in your body, TCM stress treatments and advice can induce relaxation, calm the body and mind, so that you can rest more deeply at night.
We recommend that you make an appointment to talk with one of our practitioners to discuss how we can help you. You deserve a good night’s rest!