Let's Talk About Sleep

girl sleeping on beach

In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) - really any medicine - we believe that the body regenerates itself while we sleep, and that everyone should wake up feeling rested and energized for the day. Whether you're a natural "morning person" or not, you shouldn't go through life feeling groggy, physically exhausted, and/or mentally foggy. Let's talk about a few ways you can help your body get into a deeper sleep; if you suffer from insomnia, we highly recommend trying as many as possible and then taking a few methods away as you feel more rested.

  • Go to bed before 11 latest (preferably 10): The easiest place to start is by going to bed at a decent hour. While most of us need to be up by a certain time to get to work, how early we go to bed is usually within our control. (This may be reversed if you work late hours.) We have plenty of patients say that they go to bed late because they get caught up in something like a riveting TV show or a chore around the house. If this is you, avoid putting yourself in that situation! Use the hour or so before bed to do something calming and relaxing to tell your body to wind down, and leave the energizing things for earlier times in the day. In TCM the Gallbladder is most active from 11 PM to 1 AM followed by the Liver from 1 AM to 3 AM, meaning this is when they are working their hardest to flush out the toxins accumulated through the day and rebuild vital substances that were used through the day. Being awake during these times means you're keeping these organs from doing their job well.
  • Don't consume much 2 hours before bed: Sleep is a time for your body to work on itself, and if there's food sitting in your Stomach that has yet to be digested, the body is going to work on that first instead of its normal rebuilding processes. Eat dinner by 7 or 8, only having a light snack later than that if you're very hungry. We also recommend not drinking much water in the two hours before bed, simply because you're less likely to wake to go to the bathroom during the night. Again, if you're thirsty or your mouth is dry, have a few sips at a time instead of downing entire glasses.
  • Limit sugar and/or supplement with minerals: The body uses the minerals it needs to regulate sleep to balance blood sugar, so it reasons that limiting your sugar intake will mean more minerals can be used for sleep. We like the two-pronged approach of decreasing sugar while increasing minerals because it guarantees a better outcome and has other health benefits as well. Our favorite mineral supplements are Mineral Essence by Young Living and Min-Tran by Standard Process.
  • Use other natural sleep aids: Essential oils like Lavender are well-known for their effects of supporting restful sleep, warm herbal teas like chamomile can gently soothe the body, and other supplements like melatonin - the "sleep hormone" naturally produced by the body to stimulate sleep - can be helpful as well. Chinese herbs can be prescribed by a Licensed Acupuncturist once he or she knows which imbalances are contributing to your insomnia, and therapies like acupuncture, massage, and chiropractic will set your body back into balance to help it get back to its natural sleep cycles.
  • Figure out your ideal sleep time: While the gold standard for sleep is 8 hours, some people will thrive on as little as 5 and others need as many as 9. If you're getting 8 hours but still not feeling rested, play with cutting back, especially if you tend to naturally wake after 5 or 6 hours. Waking in the middle of the night - say 1 to 3 AM - is usually a sign of disharmony, but if you're consistently waking up a couple hours before your alarm and your body and mind feel ready for the day then, it might be that your body has already had enough sleep! The author of Vibe (a book on our reading list) argues that the amount of sleep isn't as important as the completion of sleep cycles, meaning it's much easier and healthier to wake up naturally because your sleep cycle won't have been interrupted by an alarm. Everyone has different needs, so experiment with various bedtimes and wake-up times to find out what works best for you.
  • Sleep grounded: Grounding or earthing is having a connection of bare skin to bare earth, but now you can also buy grounded mats and sheets that deliver negative ions to your body while you sleep. 
puppy napping on beach
Earthing in its simplest form: sleeping on the beach

Even the best of us sometimes have nights where we don't get the quality or amount of sleep that we want or need. When this happens, try these ways to get energized naturally:

  • Get moving: If you have time to go for a run or hit the gym, go for it! You'll get your blood flowing and the new environment will help to wake you up. If you don't have much time, just do jumping jacks, run in place, or jump a bit!
  • Flow through a bit of Qi Gong: Qi Gong is the practice of using breath and movement to intentionally circulate Qi and blood through the meridians. If you have 10-20 minutes, we highly recommend Lee Holden's videos - you can find them on YouTube or our Exercise and Self-Care Pinterest board - but even a few simple movements can be helpful if you don't have that much time. Try standing with your feet about hip-distance apart and gently twisting your torso while keeping your arms loose so that they swing around your body. Keeping that same stance and looseness, alternate clapping your cupped hands on the top of your shoulder (acupressure point GB21) as you swing your arms around. Repeat a few times, and then alternate thumping your outer chest (acupressure points LU1 and LU2) with a loose fist. Repeat and then use the same loose fist to knock your low back (acupressure points UB23-25) as you swing your arms around. Can't picture what we're describing? Watch Lee Holden's video and it will make more sense. If you're not feeling Qi Gong at all, try yoga instead.
  • Inhale Peppermint oil: Peppermint essential oil is energizing and enhances cognitive function, making it the perfect oil to clear out early-morning fogginess. Place a drop in your palm, rub your hands together, cup them over your nose, and take a few deep breaths. Rub any residual oil on your upper shoulders - it might tingle like Icy Hot - and see how much better you feel.
  • Nourish your body: Drink water when you first get up and choose nutritious foods that are known to have lasting energy over sugary foods that will only boost your energy temporarily before causing it to plummet later on. 

No matter what a patient's chief complaint is, our primary concern is always to make sure sleep and nutrition are being addressed because no issue is going to heal quickly without proper building blocks and time to rest and rebuild. Use these tips to get restful sleep, and enjoy how motivated you are to accomplish more because of it.

Kathleen Ellerie is a Licensed Acupuncturist and the owner of Beachside Community Acupuncture. She loves providing affordable acupuncture to the residents of Addison, Dallas, and Farmers Branch, Texas, and educating the general public on how acupuncture and Traditional Chinese Medicine can treat everything from pain to infertility to stress and beyond. Click "Book Now" at the top of this page to book an appointment or feel free to contact her at (214) 417-2260.

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