According to the National Sleep Foundation, more than 1/3 of Americans have trouble sleeping every night. Also, 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. This decrease 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 and ability to handle stress. Insomnia also compromises our immune system and ability to moderate emotions, which can trigger depression and anxiety.
Our Acupuncturist, Noell Eans finds that poor sleep is probably one of the most common problems clients share with her, whether or not it was the chief complaint that brought them in to seek treatment. Difficulty falling asleep is only one of four types of insomnia. Insomnia also includes waking up too early coupled with the inability to fall asleep again, waking up frequently, or waking up feeling unrefreshed. Each kind of insomnia is diagnosed differently according to Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). We can treat each type with different Acupuncture points and herbal formulas, depending on the results of a differential diagnosis.
From a TCM perspective, insomnia is strongly related to the Heart and “Shen”. The Shen can be thought of as a person’s overall spirit and psychological state. 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, when disrupted, often contribute to the disruption of the Heart and Shen.
- 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 and disrupt both the Heart and Shen. This can lead to restlessness and irritability, possibly even violent nightmares.
- The Spleen system is disrupted by a poor diet, late night eating, overthinking and excessive worry. The Spleen is responsible for Blood production. In Chinese medicine, the Blood nourishes the Heart and Shen. So one may experience sleep issues at night resulting from Spleen system issues.
- The Kidney system is disrupted by anxiety, fear, overworking and poor sleep. The Kidneys play a large role in the Yin aspect of the body, or its 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, such as night sweats.
- Make sleep a priority. Disengage your mind from the stress of the day. Turn off the computer or television, especially the news, and 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 10:30 PM. In TCM, it is believed that 10:30 PM is the best time to begin a full cycle of sleep. The Qi in the Gallbladder/ Liver regenerates itself between 11 PM and 3 AM. Western Medicine concurs, stating that our Adrenal system is better able to itself when we get to sleep before 11 PM.
- Avoid caffeine in the afternoon, or try switching to green tea. Green tea 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 very cold water at night, your body is working on overdrive. The water can over-stimulate your system, causing you to stay awake. Conversely, avoid excessively hot foods. Hot peppers, alcohol, and coffee also over-stimulate 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 habits. 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, use a sleep mask or blackout shades.
In short, Good Sleep=Good Health, so get some sleep!