You settle into a warm, comfortable bed, close your eyes and even though you are tired, nothing happens...you just can’t fall asleep. Hours go by and still you’re awake, feeling increasingly frustrated at your inability to drop off. The next day you feel tired, grouchy, and unable to focus. Does this sound familiar?
Sleepless nights happen to almost everyone at some time, but ongoing insomnia can indicate a deeper issue and could lead to further health concerns. Unfortunately, a common approach to treating insomnia includes prescription sleeping medications, which can cause side effects or even dependence. That’s one of the many reasons to consider an all-natural approach to treating your sleep problems. Acupuncture can be a very effective way to improve your sleep quality without side effects, but here are some tips for healthy sleep that you can try tonight:
Have a regular routine: Plan to go to bed and wake up at the same time each day and night. Even though you might be tempted to stay up late or sleep in on the weekend, doing so will throw out your natural body clock and make it harder to get back to a healthy sleep routine. Set a 'go to bed' alarm as well as a 'wake up' alarm if you have to!
Create a relaxation ritual: Make some time in your schedule for a pre-sleep relaxation ritual. Taking a hot bath just before bed has been shown to promote a deep, restful sleep. If you don't feel like the full deal, you can just soak your feet in a footbath, which is also wonderfully relaxing. You can also add a handful of hops to the bathwater or place a small amount of dried hops wrapped in a cloth inside your pillow case. Hops are used to reduce restlessness during sleep.
Meditate: Set aside at least 10-15 minutes to meditate as part of your winding-down ritual in the evening. There are many, many ways to meditate, and if you haven't found one that resonates with you, never fear. I love Stephan Bodian's book "Mediation for Dummies" as it introduces the many different styles and approaches beautifully in easy to understand language, and highly recommend it. There are a plethora of mediation apps, websites, MP3's and CDs that you can explore. Have fun with it!
Try this Qigong Exercise: Lie relaxed in bed on your back. Hold your arms up at right angles with your elbows slightly bent, palms facing each other about shoulder width apart. Imagine you are holding a large soft ball between your hands. As you inhale, move your hands closer together. As you exhale, move them gently apart. A magnetic feeling of attraction and resistance will build up between your hands. Start off using large movements, then progress onto smaller movements to develop a state of calm. After about 10 minutes a feeling of Qi should have developed between your palms. Place your palms just below your belly button, and allow that sense of Qi to flow into your body, enjoying the feeling of tranquility.
Use aromatherapy: Put a few drops of chamomile or lavender essential oil on your pillow just before bed. You can also put a few drops in your bathwater, use an aromatherapy diffuser or add a few drops to water in a spray bottle to disperse the scent around your bedroom. You can even massage a little lavender or chamomile into the soles of your feet before bed.
Relax your soles: Tap the soles and both sides of the feet gently with a hairbrush for five minutes, paying special attention to the point Kidney-1, located below the ball of the foot in the center, about one-third the distance between the toes and heel. You can also massage your feet (or get someone else to do it for you!) focusing extra attention on this point. See photo below - doesn't that look like it would feel good? The point is just below the woman's thumbs in this picture. Stimulation of this point helps you to sleep by to bringing excess energy from the head to the feet, therefore calming the Qi. You can also apply a drop of lavender oil to this point for extra calming energy!
Evening snack tips: If you choose to eat before bed, a light snack should consist of mostly carbohydrates with a small amount of protein. This combination increases the availability of tryptophan to the brain. Try eating a small bowl of low sugar oatmeal along with low fat milk. A sliced apple with nut butter, or a cup of plain yoghurt can also do the trick. Avoid large amounts of protein before bed, it may keep you from falling into a sound sleep.
Check the time: According to TCM, our Qi flows through the meridians of our body in a sequential manner, and although there is always some energy in every organ/meridian system, there is a peak of Qi in each once every 24 hours. If there are organ/meridian systems that are blocked or out of balance that have their peak of Qi flow during the night, insomnia can result. So if you notice yourself waking up at the same time every night and having trouble going back to sleep, there might be an imbalance in that system. For instance, 11pm-1am is Gall Bladder time; 1am-3am is Liver time; 3am-5am is Lung time. Once you have identified an organ/meridian system that is out of balance, it will be easier to resolve the cause of your insomnia.
Exercise: Besides the obvious health benefits of moving your body on a regular basis, making exercise a priority in your life will help you sleep. It has been shown that people who exercise regularly experience fewer periods of insomnia, whereas people who suffer terribly with insomnia usually have a sedentary lifestyle. For some people, taking more exercise is enough to solve their sleeping problems. Not only will being more active help you sleep, but it will also increase the amount of time you spend in REM sleep. Just make sure not to do any vigorous exercise close to bedtime.
Take herbs: For a simple home remedy, try valerian or passionflower tea before bed every night until sleep improves. If this doesn't work after a month, you might need something a bit more specific. Chinese herbs can be prescribed according to your individual needs, and you must see a registered Chinese herbalist to get the right formula for you. All the acupuncturists at Affordable Acupuncture are also registered Chinese herbalists, so speak to us! Traditional Chinese herbs that are used to induce relaxation and peaceful sleep include licorice, lily bulb, chamomile and oyster shell.
We hope that some of these tips will help you get back on track to healthy sleeping habits. If you have tried all these things and are still having trouble, you might need some extra help...contact us to see how we can give you some further assistance using acupuncture and TCM.
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