Belly Breathing (for life)
Acupuncture, the Flu, & You
Say Goodnight to Insomnia
Headaches: Not just in Your Head
Quick link to:
Seven Steps to a Better Night's Sleep
Insomnia, or sleeplessness, can describe anyone who has trouble falling or staying asleep. It is more prevalent than ever with more demands on our time.
But as you know (if you're reading this at 3am) sleep is incredibly important and not getting enough of it is no fun at all.
There are more and more studies that show the effects of poor, or lack of, sleep:
There are many reasons that cause us to have difficulty sleeping. Two major areas of focus in Chinese medicine are the heart organ system as well as the body's ability to regulate heat.
The heart organ is where we say that the "Shen" or "Spirit" rests at night. If there is a disturbance in the heart system, the Shen will have difficulty settling in... leading to a general state of restlessness in the body as a whole.
According to Chinese medicine, the heart is the seat of the mind. When the heart is bothered, we feel as though our mind will not quiet down. While sleeping, this may lead to vivid and disturbing dreams.
Treating the heart through acupuncture and herbal medicine is therefore an important component to treating insomnia.
When it is hot outside and you have no A/C, it can be quite difficult to get comfortable when lying down to sleep. This is also true when your body is hot on the inside.
Even though you may feel cold when you go to bed, if your body is having trouble regulating heat, you will eventually heat up inside and get uncomfortable. This is one of the major causes of waking frequently during the night.
Problems with heat regulation generally stem from either an excess of heat in the body, mostly from irregular dietary habits and/or alcoholic consumption, or a weakness of Yin, causing heat to move recklessly in the body.
When we eat too much before sleep, drink too much in general, or simply have poor dietary and other habits, the body can have trouble processing and moving energy. When stagnation occurs, the body generates heat to move it. This can lead to an excess of heat in the body and a general state of irritability and discomfort.
If our body's Yin becomes weak (for a variety of reasons), the Yin/Yang balance becomes compromised and the heat (fire) generated by the body is not properly grounded by Yin (water). This leads to a build up of heat during the Yin (night) portion of the day. Oftentimes, this heat is released at night through sweating.
Whatever the cause, the treatment is to either remove the excess, or nourish the weakness. By removing foods, habits, areas of blocked energy that create extra heat, the body can relax and sleep at night. Likewise, by nourishing the watery quality of Yin, the heat that is normally generated by the body can be balanced and contained, so that it does not overheat the system at night.
Acupuncture for insomnia works much in the same way that it works for other conditions. Acupuncture will immediately remove areas of energy stagnation in the body. Regulating and moving energy in the body will generate a feeling of ease and relief so that the body can rest properly.
There are many points that are indicated for releasing heat, whether that heat is caused by excess or weakness. These points would be chosen depending on the client's diagnosis.
Acupuncture can also help to nourish and regulate function in the heart system to create a peaceful home for both the mind and Shen to rest at night.
Acupuncture can also influence hormone production. One study showed that five weeks of acupuncture treatment was associated with a significant increase in melatonin, an important hormone for sleep regulation (Psychiatry Online)
Finally, as a benefit to almost every acupuncture treatment, the body's Autonomic Nervous System (ANS) is switched in the Parasympathetic "rest and digest" response. It is precisely this state that is needed for a good night's sleep.
Chinese herbal formulas are prescribed according to the particular insomnia diagnosis. In general, these herbal formulas will help to tranquilize the mind, clear heat, and nourish Yin.
All the aspects that may cause insomnia will be addressed and you will fall asleep faster, stay asleep longer, and have a deeper, more restful sleep.
Herbal medicine is not a sleeping pill. Instead of simply targeting particular brain chemistry, herbs work in a holistic way to support function in your body that is weak, while reducing the buildup of excess energy. There are no side effects from herbal medicine and in addition to helping you sleep, they will work on the root of your condition.
In addition to treatment with acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine, there are easy steps you can take on your own to help regulate your own physiological processes and help you get some shut-eye.
Your body craves routine. While we think that we can charge ahead all week and "make it up" on the weekends, this is not true.
If you keep an irregular schedule, you're body will be confused from day to day on when to provide energy and when to conserve it.
The best possible thing you can do to sleep better is to go to bed and wake up at the same time everyday.
While this may not seem possible for you, just know that the more your body is trained, the more likely you will feel tired or awake when it's appropriate.
It's true. You need some discipline. You need a curfew.
Even looking at the computer is a stressful event. You're staring at light, which causes stress and mimics daylight, confusing the inner workings of your brain. There is also heat on your lap, wrists, or fingers, depending on your computer.
Then there are all the possible connotations and sub-conscious stress events that happen simply by seeing any computer.
If that isn't enough, one email or news headline can send your mind spinning.
Simple solution: Turn off the computer, smartphone, etc. as early in the evening as you can. Your brain (aka your nervous system) will thank you.
For many people, laying down in a quiet space is the perfect time for the mind to start generating problems and ideas.
This is the time for mindfulness practice.
Mindfulness is about paying attention - close attention - to what's happening NOW.
When you engage in thinking, you are focused on the past or future. I probably don't have to tell you, but when you're laying in bed at night, there's nothing you can do about yesterday or tomorrow.
Instead, focus on laying in bed and how it feels. What are the sensations in every part of your body?
Get into the moment by focusing on your breathing. The rhythmic in-and-out of the breath can help you train your mind to the present moment and away from your thoughts.
The more present you become, the less you will notice your mind's trickery (really all it wants to do is help you solve problems... so many problems), and the more your body will relax into this moment and fall asleep.
Watch anyone sleeping comfortably on their back and notice that their bellies go up and down when they breathe; their chests do not expand.
When you are in a relaxed state and the Parasympathetic aspect of the Autonomic Nervous System (ANS) is active, the belly energy is active. This is the "rest and digest" part of the ANS and many of these nerve endings are located in the abdomen.
Many of us are stuck in the opposite side of the ANS, the Sympathetic or "fight or flight" response. In this case, the energy of the belly shuts down and breathing occurs mainly in the chest.
While acupuncture treatment almost always brings the ANS to the resting state, you can do this yourself by taking slow, deep breaths into your belly. Add a touch of mindfulness and you're asleep.
A big dinner can certainly be an enjoyable experience, especially when it is shared with family and friends.
But dinner is not the best time to eat a lot. Or late.
Think about it, if food will be converting to energy, how much energy do you really need to go to sleep? Answer: Not too much.
Think about making lunch your largest meal. Keep dinner light.
Dinner should also be early enough that you have time to digest while you're awake. Let your body rest when you want to sleep.
If you feel that stress may be a factor in your sleeping difficulties, cardiovascular exercise can help metabolize stress-related hormones that are generated during the "fight or flight" response.
When you get your heart rate up, your body has the chance to release much of the energy built up during fight or flight. Otherwise, you try to go to bed "wired and tired."
So bike or walk home from work. Or simply take a brisk walk a few times each day. You don't have to make it to the gym to get your heart rate up and your stress level down.
Instead of reaching for the Ambien, there are many herbal remedies that can help you sleep.
If you are in treatment, be sure to take your Chinese herbal formula. These herbs are meant to relax you, reduce the heat in your body, and nourish what's weak so that you can sleep deeper and longer.
Herbal medicine is a key component of any insomnia treatment plan. The more regularly you take the herbs, the more benefit they will provide.