I am sure you have heard the saying “an hour before
midnight is worth two after?”
It’s not wrong!
How many of us struggle to sleep or struggle to have quality sleep?
Do you wake up at the same time every morning without an alarm clock, feeling energised and refreshed?
Many of us don’t and we find ourselves reaching for the coffee and other caffeinated beverages before lunchtime.
In Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) sleep itself is a function of the heart. If we have too little sleep, it means the heart doesn’t rest. This restless energy field in our body can make it difficult to fall asleep. In many ways, it is a double-edged sword.
Nighttime is the time our bodies use to detoxify. If we aren’t sleeping, we aren’t detoxifying either.
Sleep is fundamentally important for the health of both our body and mind. Without adequate sleep, the consequences can quickly start to stack up. We can start to suffer from anxiety, panic attacks, poor concentration, reduced reaction time, forgetfulness, and physical weakness, and very importantly a reduced immune system. It can increase the release of the hormone insulin which can lead to increased feelings of hunger and subsequent weight gain, and a risk of type two diabetes. Pretty scary stuff, but we aren’t finished there it can also cause high blood pressure and be a precursor for both heart disease and cancer.
When tension in the body and mind are balanced by relaxation then the body is more likely to be in equilibrium.
In TCM a relaxed balance between body and mind is linked to balanced liver function.
If your mind and body are unbalanced through lack of sleep you may find when you do finally fall asleep you wake up between 1 and 3 AM (in TCM this suggests disrupted liver energy). Though the liver is thought to start its detoxification from around 11 PM. Another excuse is to be in bed at 10.30.
If we drink alcohol too late, eat too late and get to bed too late, then we are putting extra strain on our liver and preventing it from doing its job during its principal organ time.
Another thing to take into consideration is, if you have been ill lately and had a lengthy convalescence (let's face it, many of us have), you will not return to your “normal” levels of energy and alertness because your liver has already been working so hard.
Remember if you are not sleeping you are not detoxing, and that’s so important to remember when you are ill. The body doesn’t just need rest it needs sleep.
Tired eyes and daytime sleepiness are a sign of an overworked liver. In the general liver, complaints don’t cause pain but they do cause tiredness, and you may feel a dip in your energy level, loss of appetite and reduced enjoyment and energy for life (fatigue and lethargy).
Sleep costs nothing, and is completely irreplaceable by any other substitute, to ensure you are looking after your own wellbeing.
So, what kind of things can we do to help ourselves improve our sleep hygiene?
- Build yourself a daily routine that allows for at least 8 hours a night
- Have a fixed time for going to bed and waking up (and remember an hour before midnight is worth 2 after)
- Avoid or reduce caffeine before lunchtime
- Give yourself 30 minutes before going to bed to plan and start to wind down, getting ready to settle for the night.
- Turn off all mobiles and laptops by 8.30 – 9 pm
- Ensure your sleeping area is well ventilated and at a comfortable temperature
- Have an Epsom salt bath or foot soak
- Have a protein snack at night such as a handful of shelled nuts, or oatcake and nut butter, or carrot sticks with hummus. This is useful for People with high stress levels or problems regulating blood sugar, and help make a difference to them waking through the night
- Ensure you have regular movement and exercise throughout your day. If mobility is poor, try chair exercise.
- Stick to your new sleep schedule for at least 2 weeks, to create new routines, and see for yourself the possible benefits
- An essential supplement to aid sleep would be magnesium. Magnesium is the only “chill pill” you need (magnesium has a multitude of benefits other than sleep and relaxation, but that’s a whole other conversation). If you regularly take antacids, they can deplete magnesium levels in the body, so just be aware of that and think about trying to get more magnesium in your diet, or use a good quality supplement with good bioavailability. Use magnesium citrate.
- You can also use a magnesium oil spray on the skin as magnesium is easily absorbed through the skin (the reasoning behind the Epsom salts baths above!).
- Stress reduction – this is also talked about a lot in Ayurvedic medicine, naturopathy, and Chinese medicine because the liver is the seat of anger. If we become angry and bitter through stress the liver is again affected, impacting our ability to sleep, and creating that whole vicious cycle again. So, combat stress!
Ways we may be able to help combat stress:
Meditation, yoga, Tai chi, Journaling, exercise, regular therapies, (such as Reflexology and Reiki) all of promoting relaxation and rest where healing can begin. Remember any period of activity should be followed by inactivity. It’s the natural rule of the universe.
Also, switch off mainstream news, don’t read newspapers, limit, or switch of social media, listen to music, dance, detox your friends, create boundaries, make time to spend with real friends, drink plenty of water and stay true to yourself. - all very important because our physical and emotional health are intrinsically linked.
All of these things help us to aim for balance within our body, and it is ultimately this balance that helps us not only sleep but live, thrive and survive!