Do you have feel-good energy to make intentional positive choices as you engage with daily life? Do you want support in getting the restful sleep you need to create a life with good exercise, healthy eating, better job performance, and/or feeling less overwhelmed by tasks? Ask yourself, are you really sleeping well?
The quality of your sleep can affect how you approach your daily activities and research shows acupuncture is an effective and safe method to improve the sleep quality for [people] with insomnia and promote their psychological health (1). When your sleep improves, so does your mood, your mind, and your day!
Many people in this collectively challenging time are also coping with the uncertainties brought on by the Coronavirus and experiencing more stressors that disrupt sound sleep.
Good sleep, like walking, sunshine, and water, is one of the most important components of good health.
Sleep and Chinese Philosophy
In the Chinese language, the character: 西 xī, for the “west” is an ideogram showing us an image of birds coming home to land in their nests. As the sun moves into the west at the day’s close…The birds come home to their nests to sleep for the night. And, just as our bodies come home to our houses, as we prepare for sleep, our Spirits must come home to rest in our bodies.
Day fades into night, yang fades into yin.
Our physical body is a fundamental aspect of our Yin nature and our Spirit or consciousness/mind, called Shen, is a fundamental aspect of our Yang nature. The most optimal sleep happens when Yin and Yang flow in harmony and balance with each other.
The material, Yin, flesh, and blood of your body is understood to be the physical matrix that cradles the Yang of your moving mind and Spirit. We say the immaterial Spirit must be able to come to rest in the material blood . . . calling you home to roost in yourself – calling the Shen to come rest in your heart for a good night’s sleep.
Nurturing this connection of Spirit (yang) to the body (yin) is at the root of how Chinese medicine treats sleep disturbances.
Imagine the birds flying around without returning to their nests . . . your immaterial (yang) thoughts and feelings can become unsettled and sometimes need help and supportive measures to settle into the body for a good night’s rest.
Consequences of Sleep Issues
Suffering from ongoing sleep issues can have challenging effects on your mood and mental processing, causing depression, unclear thinking, as well as creating a real feeling of disconnection from self. Lack of good quality sleep can bring feelings of low energy and tiredness throughout the day. For people suffering with insomnia, when it’s time to hit the pillow again, the frustrating disturbed sleep cycle starts over.
According to the CDC, “a third of US adults report that they usually get less than the recommended amount of sleep. Not getting enough sleep is linked with many chronic diseases and conditions—such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease, obesity, and depression … [and] can lead to motor vehicle crashes and mistakes at work” (2).
How Chinese Medicine Resolves Sleep Issues
I help people with sleep issues using Chinese medicine with herbal formulas and acupuncture to help the body return to its natural state of harmony with the cycles of day and night. To do this properly I have to come to understand the unique patterns underlying your cycles of wakefulness and sleeping. I like to think about this both in terms of the patterns of Chinese medical wisdom and basic clinical “sleep hygiene” (3).
When sleep is a problem, you may be in one or two of these categories:
Onset Insomnia: It takes a long time to fall asleep. The movement of Yang energy continues to be active, and the mind and body aren’t able to settle down from the day into the restful nature of consolidating Yin energy. You might find yourself doing activities into the night and lacking a desire to relax and go to bed. When you do finally lay down and close your eyes, it becomes hard to let go and fall asleep, your mind might still be engaged in thought forms, keeping you awake. The Yang nature of your being struggles to be contained by the Yin. However, when you do eventually fall asleep, Yang has surrendered and you’re likely to remain asleep until morning.
Interruptive Insomnia: Waking up in the night. Here, the movement of Yang energy is unable to remain anchored in the Yin’s stillness, and continues rising up. Falling asleep may be relatively easy, but sleep is light with waking up frequently in the night, tossing and turning and having a hard time falling back asleep. The Spirit isn’t settled in the body and you might experience nightmares, anxiety, and racing thoughts. Having difficulties in processing or digesting life circumstances or unprocessed trauma can be emotional causes for restlessness in the night. Waking up at the same time every night is common (often between 3 – 5 AM), and you may struggle to fall back to sleep or you may not fall asleep at all. Your quality of sleep feels unsettled, poor, and disturbed.
Premature Awakening: Sleep is okay, but then you’re suddenly fully wide-awake pre-dawn. Yang nature is dysregulated, it overwhelms the Yin and wakes you up when you are not ready to get up yet. The sleep cycle has not reached a natural restorative completion. You might decide you need to get more sleep and lay in bed for a while, and if you do fall back asleep, it leaves you feeling groggy when it’s time to get up and greet the day.
Acupuncture for better sleep
Whatever your personal pattern, during your appointment I will take time exploring the sleep issues you are experiencing and assess the underlying cause using Chinese medicine principles so we can choose a personalized treatment plan that works specifically with your imbalances.
Acupuncture helps to open the qi flow to create more harmony in the body and reset the nervous system. Additional supportive Chinese herbal therapy may also be prescribed. If you’re experiencing chronic sleep issues, I recommend acupuncture 1-2 times a week for at least 4-6 weeks as a starting plan to get your sleep back on track with your natural sleep/wake cycles.
6 simple ways to support sleep
- Avoid caffeine after 2 PM. Caffeine can over-activate the Yang energy and the time of day it’s consumed can bring imbalance to the natural daily cycles of Yin and Yang.
- Quiet down your activity at least 2 hours before bedtime to support your Yin energy and wind you down for sleep. This includes wrapping up activities that have your mind and body overly stimulated and engaged, such as work, screen-time, emails, etc…
- Do your exercising and other physically stimulating Yang activities in the morning or during the day.
- Avoid eating large meals late at night.
- Take Epsom salt baths or foot soaks before bedtime. Warming baths and foot soaks help shift the energy out of your mind and into your body and help with relaxation. The magnesium in Epsom salts assist with this relaxation. Take a bath for 30 minutes or soak your feet for 15 minutes just before getting into bed.
- Have a bedtime ritual, including going to bed at the same time every night by 10 pm or earlier.
Laura Allmacher RN, LAc is an acupuncturist and Chinese medicine practitioner at Heart Spring Health, a holistic health clinic located in Southeast Portland, Oregon. Laura received her Master’s degree in Oriental Medicine from the National University of Natural Medicine. Dedicated to the healing arts since 2000, Laura brings a well of knowledge cultivated over years of experience with a background in western medicine as a registered nurse, in herbal medicine and natural health therapies, and as a professional astrologer. Specializing in acute/chronic pain, digestive issues, women’s health, and mental and emotional wellbeing, Laura loves to bring all her resources to life in support of individuals healing at the deepest and most transformational level they are ready for. Click here to learn more about Laura.
Schedule an acupuncture appointment with Laura Allmacher, RN, LAc to assess sleep issues and help you return to normal sleep naturally!