Who doesn’t love that feeling of waking up in the morning, body rested, mind alert and all of your being ready to launch yourself into the day ahead? I sure do love good sleep! A good sleep is something that allows your mind and body to rest and it is essential to maintaining balance in your health – mental, emotional and physical.
I do have times when I have poor sleep – I might have difficulty falling asleep or I toss and turn restlessly through the night. If this continues, I find myself more reactive and irritable, less able to think clearly or be creative, and my body just feels heavy and sluggish. In these times, my first port of call is reviewing my sleep hygiene.
Sleep hygiene are habits that you develop and maintain to help you to have a good night’s sleep. Common sleeping problems are often caused by bad habits reinforced over years or even decades.
- Maintain a dark room. Use black out curtains or blinds and turning off any devices which emit light.
- Have a quiet room, or if quiet is not possible, try using some ear plugs.
- Ensure that the temperature is comfortable. Is the blanket warm enough or is it too warm? Having warm hands and feet when sleeping is important.
- Is your mattress comfortable? Consider seeing a mattress specialist.
- Use the bedroom only for sleeping or intimacy. Don’t use it for watching TV, surfing the internet or for talking to friends on the phone.
- De-clutter your sleep space. A messy sleep space can translate to inner stagnation and contribute to imbalances in Chinese Medicine.
- Sleep and wake at the same time every day, even on weekends. This helps to set your body clock. Avoid trying to make up for poor sleep or lack of sleep by sleeping in, though don’t be obsessive about this – occasional staying up late or sleeping in is okay.
- Get enough early morning sunshine. This also helps to set your body clock.
- Be asleep by 10:30pm as 11pm – 1am is the time when the Chinese Medicine Liver organ needs to be resting, allowing the circulating Blood to return and be processed.
- Don’t ignore tiredness. Go to bed when your body tells you to.
- Exercise daily but no vigorous exercise close to bed time.
- Relaxing exercise such as yoga or tai chi, or some gentle stretching, before bed can help to relax you.
- Try not to engage in mentally overly stimulating activities close to bed time.
- No screens for one hour before sleep. The blue light affects melatonin levels, which helps us to regulate our sleep cycle.
- No caffeinated substances e.g. coffee, caffeinated tea, coke, chocolate close to bedtime
- No sugar close to bedtime
- Avoid drugs. Nicotine is a stimulant and a sedative, and the initial “kick” causes an increase in blood pressure, heart rate and respiration rate. Alcohol is a depressant but it affects your sleep rhythm and the quality of sleep with alcohol in your system is usually poor.
- Avoid sleeping pills. They can cause daytime sleepiness and doesn’t actually solve the sleep problem. They can also cause a “rebound” effect where your sleep quality is worse when you stop taking them.
- Avoid napping during the day. This can affect your sleep rhythm.
- Stay away from large meals close to bed time.
- Minimise fluid intake close to bedtime if you have a tendency towards night-time urination.
If you can’t fall asleep
- try a mindfulness app such as Headspace or Smiling Mind.
- don’t worry about not falling asleep.
- don’t look at the clock as it increases worry, creating tension.
- write down any worries that you have or things that you have to do if your mind won’t stop thinking.
- get up and do something else in another room (with dim lighting) such as reading a book.
If by following these guidelines, you find that your sleep is still not refreshing, there could be other factors such as obstructed breathing (sleep apnoea), pain, digestive issues, stress, anxiety or depression which are contributing to your poor sleep quality. Chinese Medicine, using acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine, treats all of these conditions and can bring peaceful sleep back into your life.