Six Simple Techniques To Regain Clarity And Vitality
We spoke about how stress affects moods and physical tension in our previous articles. We all know that sleep is essential to our well being, yet insomnia is prevalent in our modern culture, especially with technology and distraction at our fingertips 24/7.
Nothing is worse than not sleeping well. When we can’t sleep well, nothing is right. We are tired, moody, irritable, our muscles are stiff, our head hurts, we can hardly think or function. Furthermore, lack of adequate sleep can cause serious health problems. The cumulative long term effects of sleep loss have been associated with a wide range of deleterious health consequences including an increased risk of hypertension, diabetes, obesity, depression, heart attack and stroke.
Western and Oriental medicine hold different approaches to the issue of insomnia. In Western medicine, if there is no obvious physical reason for the inability to sleep, it will usually be seen as an emotional problem due to stress, anxiety, or depression. A patient with a mild case of insomnia is told to ‘relax more, cut back on caffeine, try a hot bath or warm milk before bedtime.’ For chronic insomnia, the usual treatments are the prescription of sleeping pills or anti-depressants.
In Oriental medicine, insomnia is considered to be the symptom of a disease/dysfunction.The cause of a disease is a functional imbalance in one of the major organ systems (Lungs, Heart, Spleen, Liver, Kidneys). When a person suffers from insomnia, the three organs – from an energetic perspective – most often out of balance are the Heart, Spleen and the Liver. Each of these organs houses a specific aspect of the spirit (Shen). If they are out of balance, they will not be able to house the spirit properly, and the spirit will wander. A wandering spirit, or Shen disturbance, can manifest in a number of ways, including mood disorders and heart palpitations, but insomnia is one of the most common symptoms. There are several different types of insomnia, which point to different origins of the problem.
Nightmares normally indicate a disorder of the Gall Bladder meridian. Dreams in which we go over and over the same ground, walking in a maze, reliving aspects of our jobs or our relationships generally are due to a Spleen/Heart imbalance. People with this problem say, “I can’t shut my mind off.”
Waking up easily:
Many people can fall asleep easily, but then they wake up later and find it difficult to go back to sleep again. They may be awake for an hour or so, or may not go back to sleep at all. These people have a deficiency pattern, often a Heart/Spleen deficiency.
Difficulty falling asleep:
This is usually related to an excess condition of the Liver energy. People will lie awake, tossing and turning for hours.
Waking up at a specific time every night:
For example, some people regularly wake up at three o’clock in the morning. In Chinese medicine theory, the body’s energy (Qi) circulates through the twelve principal meridians over a 24-hour period. Each meridian relates to an internal organ. If a person wakes or has some unusual symptoms at the same time every day/night, it is probable that there is an imbalance in the organ system that is “highlighted” at that time of day.Energy peaks in the Liver meridian between 1 and 3 am, which is a very common time for people to wake up. Waking up at that time can be an indication for thehindered flow of Liver Qi (Liver Qi stagnation) resulting from stress and unresolved negative emotions, especially anger and frustration.
When we practitioners analyse a patient’s sleeping problems, we always look for other symptoms that are characteristic of a particular disorder and take a holistic approach. For example, people with a Liver imbalance pattern get angry easily and sometimes show heat signs such as a red face, dark yellow urine, and dry bowel movements. People with Spleen/Heart deficiency tend to be forgetful, have poor concentration, feel very fatigued, and are always worrying about something. Often they present with a weak or troubled digestive system. Patients with a Kidney/Heart disharmony can have tinnitus, palpitations, weakness in the lower back as well as urinary problems.
When treating insomnia, acupuncture and Chinese herbal formulas are often combined for the quickest and most effective results according to a person’s imbalance pattern. Acupuncture, as it has been scientifically demonstrated, can have an effect on the body’s central nervous system, and can increase levels of several neurotransmitters, including serotonin. It promotes natural sleeping patterns, without the hangover effect of most sleeping pills.
Besides receiving treatment we can implement self-help strategies to improve our sleep and mental clarity.
Self-help strategies to improve sleep and mental clarity
1. Create a haven where you can disconnect from the stresses and pressures of your daily life.
Dim the lights and set the mood for relaxation and calm, with music and aromatherapy oils that will help you sleep (Lavender, Sweet Orange, Marjoram, Roman Chamomile and Clary Sage in particular). Make sure you choose high quality essential oils for your skin or oil burner.
Turn off technology – Keep your mobile phone, tablet and computer out of the bedroom! Turn off Wifi and Bluetooth when you go to bed. Try to stay away from any screen time within an hour before you sleep…yes, that means the TV as well! Pick up a book and tire your eyes. Perhaps you can find something to inspire you at the same time?
2. Don’t overload at dinner time. A full stomach/ late dinner will lead the body to digest heavily at night instead of letting you sleep peacefully. Many sleep disturbances are due to too much spicy, fatty and rich foods later in the day.
3. Try Epsom salt baths/ foot baths: Relaxing body and mind before bed, gives a sense of warmth and well being.
4. Don’t overload at dinner time. A full stomach/ late dinner will lead the body to digest heavily at night instead of letting you sleep peacefully. Many sleep disturbances are due to too much spicy, fatty and rich foods later in the day.
5. Stick to a routine.
Our body-clock develops to respond to certain repeatable patterns. If we have routine sleeping and waking times, our whole physiology responds by harmonising cellular metabolism, hormone regulation and nervous system balance. When we experience difficulty with sleep, we force ourselves to stay awake longer in order to be tired enough to fall asleep. However, this may create further patterns of imbalance and habits that are difficult to break. By sticking to this routine of going to bed at the same time each day, we create the best opportunity for restoring our body-clock.
6. Use meditation and mindfulness practices as tools to help recover from mental exhaustion.
Continuing to practice the same meditation techniques talked about in our previous articles will help you achieve this. A great app ‘Calm’, which can be downloaded for free, allows you to tailor a guided meditation with a time of your choice. Ten minutes per day will make a huge difference in your life.
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