Author: Dr. Jeda Boughton, B.A., R.Ac., Dr. TCM, FABORM – Boda Health
If you struggle to fall asleep or stay asleep at night, you’re not alone. An estimated 70% of adults report inadequate sleep (which should be 7-9 hours a night for adults) at least once a month, and over 10% report not getting enough sleep every night. And the impact of going without sleep is enormous.
- Sleep deprivation can interfere with your job, school, ability to drive and social life.
- Poor sleep can affect your mental health, leaving you frustrated, irritable and anxious, and it can increase your risk for depression.
- Lack of sleep is a risk factor for a number of health problems including heart disease, hypertension, kidney disease, Type 2 diabetes, stroke, and obesity.
- Your safety is also affected by inadequate sleep. Risk of accidents, injuries, driver sleepiness and falls in older adults is elevated by lack of sleep. In fact, sleep deprivation has played a role in major shipping, aviation and nuclear reactor accidents around the world. And being drowsy impairs your ability to drive as much as or more so than driving drunk.
At BodaHealth, we get it. It’s easy to say get more sleep, but if you struggle to get to sleep at night or wake up in the wee hours, it can be hard to know how to accomplish that. The easiest way to understand sleep from a perspective of Chinese medicine is to understand the dichotomy of Yin and Yang. A simple explanation is that Yang is like your body’s internal fire. It’s warming, moving and transformative, so it governs processes like metabolism, digestion, it powers activity and keeps you warm. In contrast, Yin is like your body’s nourishing coolant; it’s quiet, cooling, restorative and healing. During the daytime hours, Yang is in play, fueling activity and wakefulness. However, as night comes on Yin takes over, gently ushering your body into healing and relaxing sleep.
In honor of World Sleep Day in March, we offer some of our best tips on getting better sleep, using the principles of Yin and Yang:
- Get ready to sleep by slowing down and relaxing before bedtime. Read a book, meditate or stretch before you hit the hay. Doing so helps you unwind and helps your body move into sleep mode.
- Keep your bedroom cool and dark. These are both Yin qualities that help you sleep better. In fact, a bedroom that’s too warm and even a small amount of light is enough to prevent sleep or wake you up in the middle of the night.
- Physical activity during the day can help you sleep better. However strenuous exercise too close to bedtime can mess up your sleep, so get your workout in early in the day or right after work; not at night, if possible.
- If you feel drowsy, go to sleep. Your body releases a hormone called melatonin, which makes you sleepy. However, its effects only last for a brief time. Once the effects of your natural melatonin has worn off, it becomes harder to fall asleep.
- Stay away from computer, phone and TV screens for an hour or two before bed, for two reasons. First the light these screens emit are as bright as daylight, throwing off your body’s release of melatonin. Second, they tend to keep your mind in daytime mode, which is too Yang to promote sleep.
- Allow a couple of hours between eating and trying to sleep. If you go to bed on a full stomach, you’re asking your body to actively digest and quietly sleep at the same time. The result can be stomach rumbling, heartburn and overall discomfort—and interrupted sleep.
- That said, you can use the principles of Chinese food therapy to help you sleep better. For example, if you’re hot and restless at night, adding more cooling foods and avoiding heavy or spicy foods may help. If you wake in the wee hours, more nourishing meals and healthy fats may make a difference. Our acupuncturists, naturopathic physician or holistic nutritionist can help you assess your diet and make sleep-friendly recommendations.
- If your mind is racing at bedtime, use sound in the form of meditation recordings, nature sounds or calming music to help you relax and sleep. Your brain has a hard time keeping up the mind chatter while you’re listening to relaxing sounds.
- What you drink can also make a difference in how you sleep. While avoiding caffeine after noon is obvious, sometimes a couple of strong cups of coffee earlier in the day is enough to disrupt your sleep. In addition, alcohol can relax you and help you fall asleep, but it’s well-known that it also interrupts your sleep cycles and causes you to wake long before you want to.
- Give your medications a check-up if you’re having trouble sleeping. A number of prescription and over-the-counter drugs can alter your sleep. This includes antihistamines, steroids (such as prednisone), some asthma medications, blood pressure medications and diuretics.
- Train your body to sleep by going to bed at night and rising in the morning at the same time. Setting a consistent routine signals your body to feel sleepy when you’re ready to go to bed and helps you get a better night’s rest.
Finally, if you’re finding that sleep is your nemesis, don’t hesitate to get some help. At BodaHealth, we offer help in the form of acupuncture, herbal medicine, massage, dietary intervention and lifestyle tweaks—all of which can help improve the quality of sleep. Give us a call today to find out more about how we can help you get the sleep you need for optimal health.