Insomnia is not a disease but a symptom, a sign that something is not right and needs to be addressed. That something might be stress or jet lag, changes in your sleeping environment, an illness or too many stimulants. The more concerned you are about how much sleep you are getting or how well you sleep the harder it will be to sleep peacefully.
Creating a sleep ritual is often a helpful way to improve your sleep so here are some ideas to make it happen.
The most restorative sleep you can get is between 11 pm and 3 am so the first step is to be in bed by 10.30 pm most nights. If you are a night owl, then begin by going to bed 15 min earlier each night until you are able to be in bed by 10.30 pm. If you go to bed too early and find yourself waking too early then delay your bed time by 15 min each night until you can stay up until around 10 pm.
There are two main types of insomnia: those who find it challenging to fall asleep and those who find it challenging to stay asleep.
- If you find it challenging to fall asleep be sure that you exercise in the morning rather than in the afternoon as it can take several hours to physically return to a restful state. Avoid doing anything too vigorous before sleep; unless it involves making love, then you can enjoy sleep with a contended smile on your face.
- If you are waking through the night stay well hydrated through the day so you can avoid drinking too much in the evening and getting up through the night to use the toilet.
Note what time you are waking up:
- If it is before 3 am then stress could be the reason for awakening. What are you doing to manage and release your stress through the day? Those hours between 1 am and 3 am correspond to the time of the Liver. Can you reduce consumption of caffeine (coffee and chocolate), alcohol or fatty foods? The liver energy loves to plan and strategize so spend a few minutes before your go to bed writing your to do list so you don’t spend all night thinking about it and journaling about your day so you can let it go.
- Are you waking between 3 am and 5 am? This is the time corresponding to the Lungs. How is your immunity? Are you remembering to breathe deeply through the day? Is there a sadness, a disappointment or a grieving process happening in your life at the moment? How can you support yourself through this in a gentle, loving way?
Re-balancing, supporting and nourishing the energy of your Liver, Lungs, and all other organ systems, is something that Chinese medicine is great at doing.
Whether you can’t get to sleep or struggle to stay asleep avoid eating at least 1 hr, and ideally 3hrs, before going to bed otherwise your body is too busy with the process of digestion to sleep peacefully. Eat a light meal for dinner and go for a brisk walk after dinner to work it off. Avoid sugars and other stimulants like coffee or chocolate in the afternoon or evening as they make your nervous system jittery.
Learn how to consciously let go through relaxation techniques practised during the day when you are not aiming to fall asleep. Deep belly breathing is a great exercise for letting go. Breathe in for the count of 4, hold your breath for the count of 2, breathe out for the count of 4 and rest for the count of 2. Fill your belly with each breath and use your belly to really empty your lungs. This means you are engaging your diaphragm and doing this switches off your flight and fight response which then allows you to relax completely.
Thinking things through in the middle of the night is the least productive time for coming up with solutions to problems. Spend 10 min reviewing your day before getting into bed. Revisit conversations, activities and make a note of anything forgotten, overlooked or misunderstood that needs reviewing tomorrow. Keep a note pad and pen beside your bed for thoughts that arise, write them down and let them go until the morning, you can review them again then. Follow this by writing a gratitude journal before bed, think of at least 3 things to be grateful for each day. Read something inspirational before settling to sleep.
Air your room out daily. Open the window during the day in winter to clear the air and sleep with the window open in summer to let in fresh air.
De clutter your bedroom to de clutter yourself. Regularly put fresh sheets on the bed, keep your dressers or furniture clear of discarded clothing, put shoes away, etc. Keep your bedroom clean and simple in its furnishings, no TVs or computers in your bedroom please. Sleep in natural fibres such as cotton, wool or silk as natural fibres allow your body to breath.
Have a warm bath (with Epsom salts) or shower before going to bed. Consciously wash off the day and its activities.
Light some aromatherapy (candle/oils) in the evening to establish an association between that smell and coming to rest in your bedroom. Lavender and orange are lovely restful scents.
Together with a change in your bedtime habits Acupuncture and Chinese herbs can help you to release your stress and rebalance your nervous system so you can be more relaxed for a night of peaceful sleep.
Your feedback and questions are always welcome so please leave a comment below.
For further information on Chinese Medicine contact Tania Grasseschi (Acupuncture, Chinese Herbs and Wholefood counselling). Tania is a practitioner of Traditional Chinese Medicine (AHPRA registered) in Katoomba and Botany