“When I woke up this morning, my girlfriend asked me, ‘Did you sleep good?’ I said ‘No, I made a few mistakes.” – Steven Wright
This Sunday is Daylight Savings Time. We all have to set our clocks an hour ahead. This bi-annual ritual inevitably disrupts the sleep patterns of millions of people. Because of that, this week is National Sleep Week. Sleep is one of the most important things in life, our ultimate “down time.” Many critical physiological functions occur when we sleep, including a great degree of our healing. For many of us, sleep is a like a dip into a relaxing pool for our consciousness, but can be a source of stress for many who don’t get enough of it.
From a Chinese medicine perspective, the quietude of sleep is the yin which balances the yang of our waking, active life. In our modern lifestyle, adequate sleep often gets sacrificed or compromised in favor of work or other activities, thus throwing off the essential yin/yang balance of our overall lifestyles. Because this is an issue for so many people, I’d like to share 4 tips for better sleep:
Tip #1: Meditation & Breathing Exercise
Problem: Many people have trouble falling asleep and staying asleep because their minds are too active. For some, this has to do with anxiety; they constantly worry about the problems or responsibilities of the following day or there are greater emotional issues which consume their minds. Frequently when a person is active throughout the day, they are distracted and once they lie down to go to sleep, their minds refuse to let go of their concerns enough to allow them to settle into sleep.
Solution: For people like this, meditation can be a very valuable tool for training the mind to let go. Focused deep breathing exercises can assist in training the mind/body connection to relax enough to allow sleep.
Tip #2: No TV or Computer 1 Hour Prior to Bedtime
Problem: Another common sleep problem is what we could call “nervous excitement,” this is often the result of the constant stimulation presented to us in our modern lifestyle. In pre-modern times, people usually went to bed shortly after it got dark, and back then, the world got dark. Now, we have electric lights, television, radio, computers, smart phones and tablets, and our nervous systems are constantly being stimulated. Instead of leaving our activity in the day, we carry it well into the night. This leaves our nervous system geared up in a state of wakeful excitation.
Solution: It can be very beneficial to avoid watching TV or looking into our computer or cellphone screens for the last hour or two before bed, this gives our system a chance to gradually wind down. Try taking a relaxing hot bath (maybe by candle light) instead of watching that last TV show or updating your Facebook status. It will send your system into a state of relaxation, telling your nervous system that it’s time to sleep.
Tip #3: The Right Kind of Exercise
Problem: Another common sleep problem is sleep apnea, where a person stops breathing for short periods of time during the night. This is most common in people who are overweight. Exercise will help with weight loss and thus with sleep apnea.
Solution: Adequate exercise is also beneficial for any person suffering from sleep trouble. By maintaining healthy levels of activity, our bodies naturally become more ready for sleep. The endorphins released during exercise will benefit the anxious and the nervous person.
For some of us who work long hours and don’t get to exercise until later in the evening, vigorous exercise may not be the best option, as it can increase our alertness and release adrenaline, which can be counterproductive to sleep issues. If you can only fit your exercise in at the end of the day, try doing something more gentle like walking, yoga, or tai chi which will still have the same physical benefits, but won’t cause the same level of excitement.
Tip #4: See Your Acupuncturist
If you still have trouble falling asleep, staying asleep, or feeling rested when you wake up, I’d recommend you turning to Chinese medicine. Chinese medicine practitioners have been helping patients with sleep issues for thousands of years. Regular acupuncture treatments can help retrain the nervous system to more easily achieve a relaxed state and there are some very effective herbal formulas which can help with the various causes of sleep problems. Make an appointment with your local acupuncturist!
Jorga Houy, L.Ac.