This week is National Sleep Awareness week. This week, we ask everyone to commit to better sleeping habits for the next 7 days. According to the National Sleep Foundation, more than 1/3 of Americans have trouble sleeping every night, and 51% of adults say they have problems sleeping at least a few nights each week. 43% of respondents report that daytime sleepiness interferes with their normal daytime activities. More and more scientific studies are showing correlations between sleep and overall health.
Insufficient sleep can cause decreased growth hormone secretion that is linked to weight gain, and impairs the body’s ability to use insulin, which can lead to the onset of diabetes. Frequent waking disrupts heart rate and can aggravate hypertension and cardiovascular problems. The hormone melatonin which naturally increases after sundown and during the night in a normal circadian rhythm, increases immune cytokine function and helps protect us against infection. Insomnia impairs our mental clarity, ability to handle stress, compromises our immune system and ability to moderate our emotions, triggering depression and anxiety.
In Eastern Medicine, poor sleep is probably one of the most common problems clients share, whether or not it was the chief complaint that brought them in to seek treatment. Difficulty falling asleep is only one of four kinds of insomnia. Insomnia also includes waking up too early and not being able to fall back asleep, waking up frequently, or waking up feeling unrefreshed. Each kind of insomnia is diagnosed differently according to Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and we can treat each type with different Acupuncture points and herbal formulas, according to a differential diagnosis.
From the perspective in Eastern Medicine insomnia is strongly related to the Heart and “Shen”. The Shen can be thought of as ones overall spirit and psychological state and the Heart is responsible for “housing the Shen.” Disruption of the Shen can lead to the signs and symptoms of insomnia – overthinking, restlessness, and anxiety. A few of the meridian systems which often contribute to the disruption of the Heart and Shen, are:
The Liver system, is disrupted by excessive stress and/or anger, fatty foods and alcohol. These factors lead to heat in the Liver which can rise up, disrupt the heart and Shen and lead to restlessness and irritability, possibly even violent nightmares.
The Spleen system, is disrupted by a poor diet, late-night eating and excessive worry and overthinking. As the Spleen is responsible for Blood production and the Blood of Chinese medicine nourishes the Heart and Shen, one may experience sleeping issues at night.
The Kidney system, is disrupted by anxiety and fear, overworking and poor sleep. The Kidneys play a large role in the Yin aspect of the body – it’s receptive and calming nature. When the Yin of the body is depleted, the heat of the body can flare up and one may experience sleeping problems with night sweats, for example.
In addition to Acupuncture and Herbs, here are some tips to get you started on the road to good sleep:
Make sleep a priority. Disengage your mind from the stress of the day. Turn off the computer or television (especially the news!), and turn off the phone. Meditate or take a hot bath. Read a book or write in a journal. Journaling is a great way to work through an emotionally stressful day or to shake off your mental “To DO” list.
Go to sleep by 10:30pm. In Eastern Medicine, it is believed that 10:30 P.M. is the best time for a full cycle of sleep, because the Qi in the Gallbladder/ Liver regenerates itself between 11pm and 3am. Western Medicine concurs that our Adrenal system repairs better when we get to sleep before 11pm.
Avoid caffeine in the afternoon, or try switching to green tea, which has more antioxidants and less caffeine than coffee.
Don’t drink ice water. According to TCM, it taxes your Spleen and your body has to work extra hard to heat up the cold water you are drinking. So if you drink really cold water at night, your body is working on overdrive and it over-stimulates your body causing you to stay awake. Conversely, avoid over-stimulating hot foods. Hot peppers, alcohol, and coffee overstimulate the nervous system causing an imbalance in the liver, which will disrupt your sleep.
Reduce your exposure to artificial light! Artificial light disrupts our circadian rhythm and throws off our sleep. Just a single ‘pulse’ of artificial light at night disrupts the circadian mode of cell division, which can not only impact our sleep, but also increase our risk of cancer. Another study showed that the blue light emitted from alarm clocks and other digital devices suppresses melatonin production in a dose-dependent manner. Turn off the computer or television 2 hours before bedtime and cover or remove any electronics in your room that have bright lights. According to Traditional Chinese Medicine, if you place your hand twelve inches in front of your face and you can clearly see it, then your room is not dark enough for proper sleep.If you can’t do these things for some reason, use a sleep mask or blackout shades.
In short, Good Sleep=Good Health!