Sleep is one of the most yin-nourishing activities of the body. Yin is the cooling, nourishing, still aspects of the body and it’s functions. These functions are restorative, and provide a basis from which the yang-activities of the day can arise to function optimally. Yin the essential counter-balance to the dynamic, expansive, heating and energy-expending activities of the day. It counters the busy-ness of the day – mental, intellectual, psychological and physical.
In all traditional systems of medicine, health is all about balance – and whether you feel like pulling back on activity to create a more balanced lifestyle, or you are driven to do more, and more – both these lifestyles can be healthy. The key is to counter the yang of your day with quality yin. The most fundamental and powerful way you can achieve this is with good quality and sufficient sleep. Ignore this fundamental rule of balance and you’ll find that you’ve burnt the candle at both ends – and that condition of the body is very difficult, if not impossible to reverse.
We don’t know why we sleep from a modern medical point of view however we do know that there are many shocking consequences to a lack of sufficient sleep. Mentally your thinking and memory are impaired and you are more prone to make errors in your workplace, emotionally, you are more prone to depression, anxiety, other mood disorders and mental distress, physically you feel more pain and indeed the levels of inflammation increases in the body. Your hormone profiles become skewed affecting fertility. A lack of good quality sleep can affect pregnancy outcomes such as foetal growth and pre-term birth. Your immunity is impaired, you are at a greater risk of heart disease and obesity, and your chances of having a motor vehicle or workplace accident is increased several fold… enough reason to make getting a good night’s sleep a priority!
Insomnia can take many forms: the inability to get to, or stay asleep, restless or dream-disturbed sleep, or early morning waking. If you experience any of these that are leaving you unrefreshed in the morning and impair your energy levels during the day, then you have a problem.
Exercise during the day. If you have a sedentary job, it is important to move regularly throughout your day as well as make time to exercise. Just as the yin functions of the body such as sleep provides a basis for yang activities of the day to take place, the yang energy-expending activities of the day provide a basis for restful, yin-promoting sleep.
Exercise has been shown to help with sleep quality and quantity. Furthermore, studies on Tai Chi and sleep have found that this type of exercise is even more beneficial than regular low-impact exercise in adults with moderate sleep problems.
Avoid stimulants. The obvious one here is avoiding caffeine after 2pm. What’s less obvious is that strenuous exercise is a stimulant, so avoid strenuous exercise in the evening. Engaging books and movies, computer games and even study are all also stimulants and should not be engaged in 1-2 hours before bed.
Avoid alcohol. Alcohol is a sedative, BUT it also fragments your sleep cycles and interrupts deeper levels of restful sleep. In traditional oriental medical theory, the Blood moves inward during sleep to the Liver Jueyin organ system, cooling and stilling the body and anchoring the mind to allow restful sleep. Alcohol heats up the Blood and forces it to the periphery – effectively the opposite of what is needed to get a good night’s sleep.
Establish a routine. The body loves regularity in all things! It likes to know what comes next and when that is. It means that the body’s circadian rhythms can settle into a…. well a rhythm. Set a regular bedtime and wake time (and keep this consistent over the weekend if you can). The wake time can be adjusted incrementally to dawn if you are an early bird. Likewise your sleep time can be adjusted for a little later in the summer and a little earlier in the winter. But to begin with keep it simple and stick to the same times until your body get into a noticeable routine. In time your body will automatically feel start to feel sleepy at the time that you’ve set.
Eat dinner early. Digestive function is strongest early in the day. In the evening have a light dinner early – this matches well with your digestive capability at this time of day. If your digestion is active or over-worked in the evening and night this will disrupt your sleep.
Unwind. Take time to unwind. Many people who complain about have an over-active mind at night, or waking in the middle of the night thinking, have not taken the time to unwind. Take at least an hour before bed, dim the lights, make some herbal tea (chamomile, valerian or passion flower are all nice and calming before bed), and just sit. You’ll find that in this process that many of the unfinished thoughts and business of the day will pop into your mind. Use a journal to jot these down – this literally moves them from your mind onto the paper and helps process any unfinished thoughts. Creating a to-do list of any thoughts that arise about things that you need to action the following day is also very useful.
Soak your feet in hot water before bed. This is a traditional Chinese remedy that works like a charm! If you’ve got an overactive mind, do give it a try. It brings your attention and focus away from your mind, and is intensely relaxing and sleep provoking.
Affairs of the bedroom. Keep your bedroom simple and uncluttered. And keep your bedroom as a place for bedroom activities only (sleep and sex, that is). No TV, no devices, no work. This sets up an association in your psyche, so in time, when you enter it, your body automatically starts to wind down towards sleep.
Sleep alone as we get older. As we get older our sleep gets lighter and perhaps our or our partner’s sleep becomes louder. Aside from you or your partner needing to get the snoring checked out by a medical doctor (if it is accompanied by waking unrefreshed and experiencing fatigue during the day), you may have to sleep alone. This bit of advice is a hard sell in the modern day, but I do have to emphasise the fundamental and foundational importance of getting quality for your health.
“The loss of one night’s sleep is followed by ten days of inconvenience.” Chinese proverb
Book in for a consultation and treatment – there are acupuncture, herbal and nutritional strategies that may help you get the sleep that you need. During the consult we’ll conduct a thorough audit of your health to see what may be contributing to your sleep problems and how we may address it together.
Blue light eliminating software when you need to study or work at night: https://justgetflux.com
App to monitor and analyse snoring and sleep apnea: https://www.snorelab.com/