I don’t need to tell you how much better you feel when you get a good night’s sleep on a regular basis. The science of sleep has established health benefits too numerous to count. The more obvious ones are feeling energized, focused and productive during the day. Our bodies, and especially our brains, are using the quiet hours of sleep to do much needed tissue repair, detoxification and memory processing. Your digestion needs the 8 to 10 hours of fasting to process the food you ingested during the day.
If you don’t sleep well, or don’t sleep enough, all this work in your body doesn’t get done efficiently, and serious problems can arise over time. Poor sleep, also called insomnia, has been recognized to contribute to many chronic health issues such as weight gain, diabetes, heart disease, immune and endocrine dysfunction, and even cancer. Anyone suffering from sleeping problems will not function optimally during the day, may experience mood disorders, and is more prone to accidents. All this should be enough incentive for you to make a regular good night’s sleep a top priority.
Whether or not you have trouble falling or staying asleep, the following steps to promote quality sleep can help you get more out of your shuteye:
- Keep regular bedtime hours, including on your days off. 8-9 hours of good sleep is great. You should be in bed by about 10:00pm.
- Turn off your electronic devices such as phones, e-readers, and TV, at least 30-60 minutes before you go to bed.
- Keep your bedroom cool, dark, quiet and well ventilated.
- Ideally, your bedroom should be a sanctuary used only for sleep and intimacy.
- If you have any allergies or chemical sensitivities, ensure that artificial materials, fragrances or molds are removed from your bedroom.
- Stay well hydrated during the day but do not drink large amounts of fluid directly before bedtime.
- Avoid caffeinated and alcoholic beverages in the afternoon and evening. Instead have a calming herbal tea.
- Explore practices like yoga, tai chi or meditation to help you create a calm state of mind and a relaxed body before you lie down.
Quite a few people have serious trouble falling or staying asleep. If this happens only every once in a while, don’t fret! But if this is a new problem for you, or you’ve been struggling with insomnia for a long time, don’t brush it off! Try to get to the bottom of it. All the suggestions listed above are even more important for you, so implement them diligently!
If these lifestyle changes are not enough to help you re-establish a healthy sleep pattern and feel good during the day, it is time to seek professional help. One common and easily overlooked cause of insomnia is sleep apnea. If you’re not sure about it, your primary care physician can initiate a sleep study.
Acupuncture has been shown to promote the quality and duration of sleep. It balances your internal organ systems energetically, which allows you to relax more deeply and re-connect with your biorhythm. Bodywork can be very useful, especially if you feel tight and your breathing is restricted.
After interviewing and examining a patient with insomnia, we develop a pattern diagnosis according to Chinese medicine principles to describe imbalances of body and mind. This process leads us to appropriate herbal prescriptions to nourish deficiencies and restore energetic balance. Chinese herbal therapy addresses both the root causes, including stress, exhaustion, menopause, anxiety and depression, and manifestations of insomnia so that you can get better for the long term.
While I recommend working with a knowledgeable professional herbalist to select a suitable Chinese herbal formula and dose it correctly, especially if you are also taking pharmaceutical drugs, a few widely available botanicals can be tried on your own. Those include chamomile, lavender and passionflower. Take a look at Traditional Medicinals’ Nighty Night or Yogi Tea’s Bedtime tea blends.
Some of my patients also find homeopathic medicines helpful to restore restful sleep. While these medicines are very safe, the correct choice will depend on a thorough analysis of the person’s specific sleep issues. Your constitution and personality also play an important role in the selection of homeopathic medicines.
Lastly, one of my personal favorites is an essential oil blend made by Snow Lotus. It is called Sweet Dreams and consists of lavender, helichrysum, Roman chamomile and geranium. You can place a cotton ball with 1-2 drops on your chest when you go to bed, or you can use it in a diffuser.
© 2017 Christiane Siebert