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January 3, 2013 / Karen R Adams

how’s your sleep?

Acupuncturists spend some time asking patients about how they sleep.  Do you have trouble falling asleep?  staying asleep?  What’s your sleep environment like?  If you wake at night, is it easy for you to get back to sleep?  Why do you wake at night?  Are you refreshed when you get up in the morning?

I’m sure you’ve seen lots of published research on sleep – and a lot of it boils down to we’re not really sure what’s good sleep, but we recognize it when we don’t have it.

In Chinese Medicine, sleep is seen as the time when the body restores itself.  Your sleep is deeply affected by the state of your mind and heart, as well as your body.   It’s very important that sleep is restful, and maximizes the body’s nourishing and healing without interference.  If you are having trouble sleeping, you might try some of the things listed below to help you sleep, before resorting to OTC sleep aids or stronger medication.

  1. Cut back on coffee.  Notice I did not say ‘give it up’, though you may decide you want to.  There’s nothing inherently wrong with coffee.  Like all things we can ingest, it can actually be a medicine.  And it also stimulates the central nervous system, can cause stress and anxiety, and strain our Kidneys.  If you’re having trouble sleeping, try not to have any caffeine after 2 PM (if you go to bed around 10 PM).  Give your system a chance to smooth out, and see what happens.
  2. Check out herbal aids for sleep, and use them appropriately and consistently.  Valerian tea, passionflower tea or chamomile tea are good.  You might look for a homeopathic relaxant, like Kalmz Forte, which is available OTC in some drug stores.
  3. Make sure your sleep environment helps you.  It should be quiet and cozy, and used (almost exclusively) for sleep.  Not for reading or watching TV or playing one last computer game.  The colors in it should be soothing: blues, greens, grays.  Use light blocking curtains.  And, while some of my patients don’t like to hear this, if you share your bed with someone else (pets included) and have restless sleep, you may want to try sleeping alone for a couple of nights to see if your sleep improves.  Sometimes your sleep might be just fine, but your partner’s restlessness is disturbing you.
  4. 30 minutes before you go to bed, do some lovely, easy body stretches.  They’ll help un-kink the knots you may have developed over the day.  The relaxation will prepare you for sleep.
  5. Try not to eat anything for 2 – 3 hours before you go to bed.  It’s hard for your body to relax while it’s working to digest your food.  Plus, since it’s working instead of resting, you’ll probably wake up tired.
  6. Don’t try to make up your 8 glasses of water before you go to bed.  Sometimes getting up to pee at night is just because you had too much to drink before bed, not because you have a ‘weak bladder’.
  7. Aroma therapy can be very effective in helping you sleep, especially if it invokes feelings of coziness and safety.  the essential oils green apple (yum!), lavender and vanilla decrease anxiety and induce sleep.   If the smell of chocolate chip cookies or apple pies makes you feel snuggly, use them!

Try these things for one week and see if your sleep improves.  You can measure this by noticing how you feel at different times of the day.  Are you waking up eager for the day’s adventures?  Does your energy last all day, or are you fading out mid-afternoon?  Do you feel more graceful, more in your body than you have been lately?  Is your memory a bit better?

Then pick one or two activities to continue.  Was there something that seemed to help more than others?  That’s the one to choose.

If you’re still struggling, don’t despair, just ask for help.  Things like acupuncture or a meditation class are steps you can take before you decide you’re a hard-core sleeping failure.  It may be that the problem is a deeper imbalance than what is addressed by these steps.  In that case, something like acupuncture can be very helpful.  Correcting sleep problems can be tricky, but in my experience, acupuncture always helps restore you to the perfect balance that is you.  In fact, no matter what issues bring you to acupuncture, improved sleep is very often a side-effect of treatment!

Here’s to a healthier you this year!

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