If you struggle with sleeplessness, you’re not alone. Most people have insomnia of one kind or another at some point in their lives. The inability to sleep may take the form of a racing mind when you first go to bed, early waking, restless sleep, or being awake the entire night.
How insomnia is treated in Chinese medicine is generally different than in Western medicine. If you go to your Western medical doctor complaining of sleeplessness, you will likely be prescribed some kind of prescription sleep aid. In Chinese medicine, the first order of business is to determine why you’re not sleeping. Your treatment will focus on the cause of your insomnia, and in treating the cause, your insomnia should be resolved for good. The down side of Chinese medicine is that in some instances, treating a sleepless habit that has gone on for many years can take a long time to resolve. For more on the some of the underlying causes of insomnia, go here.
In the meantime, here are some tips, most of them based on Chinese theory, to help you get a better night’s sleep:
-Turn down the thermostat. Too much internal body heat can cause you to wake hot and sleep restlessly. A hot room or too many blankets only aggravates this condition. In addition, nighttime is meant to be a cool and quiet time of the day, so a cool bedroom is conducive to better sleep.
-Don’t go to bed full. Eating too close to bedtime is a recipe for sleeplessness in the form of heartburn, rumbling, bloating, and general discomfort. Your body is trying to digest while you’re trying to sleep–it has a hard time doing both.
-Avoid caffeine. This may seem like a no-brainer later in the day, but a few strong cups of coffee earlier in the day can also play a role in disrupting your sleep/wake cycle.
-Check out your medications. Many prescription drugs can mess with your sleep, including antihistamines, blood pressure medications, asthma medications, and diuretics, to name a few.
-Get some exercise. Just not right before bed. If stress, strong emotions, or a racing mind is keeping you awake, a vigorous workout earlier in the day will help you sleep better. If you wake during the wee hours and can’t get back to sleep, gentler exercise during the day (like walking, Yoga, Qi Gong) is a better option for you.
-Use light to your advantage. To help your body release the specific hormones that help regulate your sleep, try to get at least a half hour of direct sunlight each day and keep the room where you sleep as dark as possible. If you’re unable to get outside for a half hour each day (or if you live in the hinterlands of Minnesota) you can also get your light fix by using a full-spectrum light box.
-Get ready to sleep. Winding down in the evening is an important part of getting to sleep. Turn off your computer an hour or two before bed–the screen gives off as much light as a light box and can derail the sleep process. Also, slow down, read, and relax to signal to your body that it’s time to sleep.