When You Can’t Sleep
Sleeping. I don’t think it is too much of a stretch to say that it is absolutely a bedrock component of good health. For many of us, it is the foundation on which our sense of well being and sanity rests!
Sleep disturbances are what got me to walk into an acupuncture clinic to begin with. After working the night shift at multiple jobs in my early twenties, I ended up very burned out and with horrible insomnia. My circadian rhythm (sleep and wake cycle) was completely out of sorts after working overnights more than five nights per week for close to a year. Once I left the jobs, I tried to restore my natural sleep rhythm with prescription and over-the-counter sleep aids, but they left me feeling lobotomized, like a truck had plowed through my brain. It was pretty miserable to say the least. The work schedule, coupled with a tremendous amount of stress, set off a cycle of insomnia that was difficult to break free from. Stress hormones cascaded through my body leaving me feeling both tired and wired at the same time - a super unpleasant way to feel.
Luckily, weekly acupuncture treatments, as well as herbal supplements and some lifestyle tweaks helped me to get back on track. I was deeply grateful, and it spurred a desire to learn more about acupuncture and the incredible medical tradition it comes from.
Sleep disturbances are incredibly difficult to deal with, affecting just about every system in our body - our mood, weight, immune system, energy levels, to name a few. Sleep disturbances can include difficulty falling asleep, staying asleep throughout the night, and waking up feeling well-rested in the morning.
If you struggle with sleeping problems, I want to give you a big hug. Seriously! I have major empathy, I’ve been there. It’s so hard. Having personally struggled with sleep disturbances from time to time, I have become way more conscious of what the major triggers are for setting me up for sleeping poorly. I am also very protective of my sleep schedule.
Here are a few things I suggest if you’re struggling with poor sleep:
Regularly receiving acupuncture can help ease and lessen the cumulative effects of stress that we all deal with in our day to day lives. A regular build-up of stressful experiences and circumstances can leave stress hormones cascading through our bodies, setting the stage for dis-ease. Acupuncture is extremely helpful at “taking the edge off” of stress. Patients who regularly receive acupuncture, especially when they are experiencing a heightened period of stress in their lives, report that they are better able to weather the difficult period and experience less feelings of overwhelm. Acute and chronic periods of stress are a huge set-up for sleep disturbances down the line, and regular acupuncture helps mitigate this.
Alcohol and a good night’s sleep absolutely do not mix! Metabolizing alcohol while we sleep strongly interferes with the deeper part of our sleep cycle called REM (rapid eye movement) sleep. People who are sensitive to the effects of alcohol can have their sleep disrupted after even one drink. This fact may seem to defy many people’s perceptions - after all, that last drink of the night is often referred to as a “nightcap.” If you enjoy the ritual of having a little something to drink before going to sleep at night, try a good herbal tea.
I am always the person who when told I need to drink less caffeine will think “Not in this lifetime, sucker!” I like caffeine. When a coffee shop opened up very close to my house, it was like Oprah had moved in down the street. I still drive past that place two years later with a smile on my face. But things change, and now I value sleep way more than I enjoy getting revved up on caffeine. If you worship the coffee bean like I do, try to limit your intake to one cup in the morning and nothing after lunch. Your sleep schedule will thank you!
Find what works for you
If you’ve struggled with sleep disturbances in the past, you have probably memorized the pillars of good sleep hygiene at this point and know them by heart. With that said, I’m a big believer in finding what works for you. As much as I enjoy “Mind hunter” on Netflix, that show kind of freaks me out and I’m definitely not going to watch it before going to bed. Sometimes I will do a gentle restorative yoga practice (www.yogaglo.com) if I’m feeling revved-up at night. Just laying in bed with my dog and my cat for a half an hour without watching television or any other electronic distraction can get me in the right head space before going to sleep. Find some things that work for you. Don’t be afraid to experiment.