Lifestyle Basics: Sleeping

Not getting enough sleep? Feeling like your sleep is not high quality? Both insomnia and sleep deprivation are very common concerns. With sufficient, deep sleep, many common health complaints resolve themselves. In our clinical practice, we’ve seen problems such as fatigue, stress, depression, chronic pain, headaches, menstrual problems, and digestive issues spontaneously resolve once a patient starts getting deep, restorative sleep every night. Here we’ll look at some of the basic guidelines that Chinese medicine offers us for regulating our sleep, opening up a tremendous resource in our body’s ability to heal itself.

In our hectic lives, sleep can easily fall down the list of important things to do. Often seen as simply the enemy of productivity and fun, sleep is increasingly recognized by modern science as a vital part of our wellness. Even moderate sleep deprivation has been shown to shrink our brains, reduce our IQ and memory, lead to weight gain, and even de-regulate normal gene expression. In the East, sleep has always been valued as a key component in supporting our body’s ability to recovery from injury, and our mind’s ability to handle stress.

We all know that is not just the quantity of sleep that is important, but also the quality of this sleep. 7 to 9 hours per night is recommended, with the amount varying slightly with the seasons. In the Winter months, more sleep is a good thing, to allow the body to restore itself deeply during the longer nights. Conversely, in Summer, we can stay energized with less sleep, as our bodies’ circadian rhythms adjust automatically to the changes towards longer days. Interestingly, the Chinese have recognized the importance of getting sleep at the right time as being a key component of increasing the quality of our rest. No one should be surprised to hear that our bodies respond the best when we get sleep like our many ancestors who lived before electricity intended: at night! Without getting into the theoretical details, being deeply asleep between 1 and 3 AM is deemed to be the most restorative time in our daily rhythms.

So what can we do to support deep sleep at this time? Here’ s a short list:
- regulate your schedule. Try to get to bed the same time every night, and wake the same time every morning. To be deeply asleep at 1 AM, most people need to be in bed before 10.
- wind down in the evening: turn off overhead lights 2 hours before bedtime. Stop using any screens (TVs, computers, tablets, phones) 2 hours before bedtime.
- don’t eat a heavy meal in the evening. Most of us have suffered from periodic insomnia after a very heavy meal. Your digestive energy is lowest after dark. Stagnant food can disturb the body’s shutting-down process, even after a moderate meal.
- if your mind is very busy: make a to-do list before going to bed, and resolve not to revisit it until tomorrow. If it is still busy, soak your feet in hot water. This helps draw your awareness down into the body, and out of the head.
- get regular exercise. Exercise moves the tissues of the body and smooths the circulation, allowing better blood flow and normalizing endocrine function. A restless mind is often just a side effect of a restless body.

These simple steps can do wonders to change your sleep! If you are finding that it is still difficult to settle down, or stay asleep, acupuncture is a very effective therapy to regulate the flow of energy in the body, and help get you out of your head. Your acupuncturist can also help you figure out what other factors in your lifestyle and health situation might be negatively impacting your ability to get quality rest, or find an herbal medicine prescription to aid you in your quest for rest.