by Jane Barthelemy. Good sleep is the foundation of health, and lack of sleep can literally drive you insane. Yet drugs to treat insomnia are even worse. Join me as I explore radical, natural solutions to restful sleep from ancient Chinese medicine and simple old-fashioned home healing. It is said that one in 10 Americans take sleep medications, and over 60 million prescriptions for sleeping medications were filled in the US in 2014. Poor sleep weakens your immune system, increasing your risk of Heart disease, Autoimmune diseases, Arthritis, Neurodegenerative diseases, and Cancer.
Traditional Chinese medicine sees sleep as the natural rhythm of Yin and Yang.
Sleeping recharges the body, and is essential to maintain a balance of Yin and Yang in the body. In the wintertime, we need more sleep. Our bodies are intimately connected to the Yin Yang rhythms in the daily and seasonal cycles, the waning and waxing of the moon, and the universal cycles. Insomnia is a sign that Yang is not balanced with Yin.
Traditional Chinese Medicine says we should go to bed between 10 to 10:30.
Liver repair time is from 11 pm to 1 am. The liver has much to process, so if you aren’t asleep by 11, you could be losing valuable healing time. Some believe we should spend a third of our lives sleeping, a third working and a third in leisure. Scientists say we should have six 45-minute cycles of sleep alternating between REM (rapid eye movements) dream sleep and non-REM dreamless sleep every night. Western science finds that growth hormone is secreted from 9 p.m. to 7 a.m., making this the ideal sleep period. Growth hormone secreted in deep dreamless sleep is said to help repair the body. But with all our modern measuring techniques of REM’s and hormone secretions, what essential qualities of sleep have scientists failed to notice?
OK, What is Sleep? The Spiritual Dimension of Sleep.
Most people don’t even ask themselves what sleep is. What is sleep’s real meaning? Sleep is not simply the absence of waking. Accomplished meditators demonstrate brainwave activity that is surprisingly similar to deep sleep, during the day. They are calm and unflappable, yet fully awake. At the other extreme we see people walking around that seem totally asleep. Perhaps we need to think of sleep as not the absence of waking, but a different kind of experience in its own right. Sleep delivers something important. Good sleep is connected to self love and universal oneness. When the body and spirit are aligned, good sleep is possible. When body and spirit are mis-aligned, good sleep is unlikely.
Sleep has a spiritual benefit. It takes us to another place in consciousness. Sleep is an essential experience in itself. In ancient Daoism the spirit of the liver is known as Hun. The subtle, spiritual, and eternal aspect of our human soul, it is said that the Hun is fond of leaving the body to wander out in the ether during sleep. Thus sleep may be a time when we can actually move into the universe and heal on deeper levels.
Insomnia, the Mysterious Causes that Keep you Awake:
Possible Causes of Insomnia Include:
Hormones, Drugs, Smoking, Alcohol, Coffee, Food Allergies, Nutrient Deficiency, Emotions, Nervous system on overload, WiFi, cell phone emissions, nearby routers, EMF’s, electronic stimulation, lights in the bedroom, Synthetic fabric sheets or nightwear, Dryness in the air, Cold top of head (Bai hui), late eating, poor food combining, poor or superficial breathing, stress, worry, thinking, or simply not having processed your day. Any one of these factors could keep you wide awake all night.
In Chinese medicine, sleep is related to the daily rhythms and the 24 hour organ clock. The spirit of the Heart is called the Shen, which allows an individual to be conscious of his or her self. The Shen also controls sleep. The Shen stays quietly in the organs at night to recharge, and comes out during day to carry out its duties. Sometimes sleep problems occur when the Shen gets over excited, for example during periods of change or emotional upheaval.
Insomnia is not a single malady.
There’s no standard treatment for insomnia in Chinese Medicine, because it can manifest in many ways. Each type of insomnia is treated differently in Chinese medicine. For example, it can be caused by excessive Shen or deficient Shen. Insomnia can show up as difficulty falling asleep, or frequent waking during the night. It can be caused by anxiety and irritability in Liver Qi. It may be related to worry, gut imbalance, nighttime digestion, and the spleen or stomach meridian. Chronic insomnia can be caused by a restless spirit, or a poor communication between the heart and kidney. Insomnia may manifest as nightmares and dream-disturbed sleep, which are treated through the spleen and heart.
Natural Solutions for a Good Night’s Sleep
Prepare for sleep, just like you would prepare for any important activity in your day:
- Balance Yin and Yang in your body. Slow your breathing down, way down, with gentle Tai Chi, Qigong or Yoga. Good Qigong forms before bed are: Carry Tiger with Phoenix Rising. Calming the Waters.
- Turn off electronics: WiFi off, put away your cell phone, computer, and TV at least 2 hours before bed.
- Practice Nadi Shodhana, alternate nostril breathing for 5 minutes. Make sure your exhale count is longer than your inhale, in order to soothe nerves and help your body to calm down easily.
- Listen to nature sounds before bed. Falling rain is a good sound to fall asleep to.
- If you get up at night to go to the bathroom, don’t flip on lights. Let your eyes adjust to the dark.
- Bring closure to your day. Meditate on what happened. Use a meditation or prayer that helps digest your life’s experiences. Thank each person your encountered. Then bring your energy back home to your heart’s private space.
- Release negative psychic tensions. Brush them off your arms and shoulders. Or hang your arms to the side and ask to release negative tensions. You might feel heavy stuff flowing out your underarms to your hands, and shake it off.
- Give your thoughts and worries away. Give them away to the Earth or to God or your favorite Source. Just give them up completely. You don’t need to carry the emotions of others, the desires of your family, or the troubles of the world to bed with you. That’s not yours. Don’t take these heavy weights to bed, as if you could digest them in your sleep. Process your day before bed as much as possible. Then give yourself over to spiritual deep sleep.
- Try a tablespoon of raw honey, right before bed.
- Massage your feet and toes. Add soothing coconut oil or sesame oil.
- Drink a calming tea, such as Chrysanthemum tea, Chamomile, Ashtanga Tea, or Lemon Balm.
- Take a warm bath before bed. Add soothing ingredients like lavender oil, baking soda, Epsom salts.
- Read your favorite poetry book.
- Avoid hot peppers, alcohol, or coffee late in the day, which over-stimulate the nervous system & liver.
- Block out all the light in your bedroom. Wear a sleep hat that covers your eyes, or a blindfold.
- Keep the temperature in your bedroom no higher than 68 degrees F.
- Meditate before bed to calm your system. Relax the three centers: body, mind, and breathing.
- Eat dinner at least 3 hours before bedtime, so you go to bed with an empty stomach. Nighttime digestion robs the body of needed deep sleep.
- If hunger keeps you awake try a light snack, like fruit. Not heavy food.
- Practice Shivasana, relaxing every muscle and every part of your body from toes up to head.
- Vigorous exercise or working-out during the day will help ensure you sleep. It balances the Yang and the Yin.
- Self-Massage before bed for deep sleep. Every night before sleep, soak the feet in warm water for ten minutes, then massage these points:
Massage K6 Zhao Hai inside of leg below ankle bones (left)
Massage Bubbling Springs K-1 Yong Quan center feet (right)
Keep the very top of the head warm GV-20 Bai Hui
In the morning, go out in bright sunlight (Yang).
Dim the lights when darkness falls (Yin).
Walk outside in the morning light.
Two extraordinary meridians, Yin Qiao Mai and Yang Qiao Mai, play an important role in the sleep cycle. They reinforce the organ meridians. Plus they rule the flow of Qi from the Earth to the inner canthus (inner corner) of the eyes, and into the brain. Why is this important? This fills the body with nourishing Earth energy, sets the daily biorhythms and photo-sensitivity of the eyes, establishing bio-rhythmic patterns of day and night. This builds strong protective Wei Qi, and stimulates a healthy brain. These 2 meridians do all this through our movement of walking. Walking! This simple exercise of walking in the morning light each day is one of the most effective cures for insomnia and other maladies.
Oxygenate Your Blood with Deep Slow Breathing in Yoga, Qigong, and Pranayama
Clinical studies by Russian MDs show that how you breathe directly affects your oxygen levels, how long it takes to fall asleep, depth of sleep, how much sleep is needed, and your level of health. Because of our hectic pace of life, most modern people take quick, superficial breaths. And they sleep poorly. Russian studies compared breathing patterns of Yoga masters to normal people and sick people. They found that the length of your breath can indicate your level of health and how much sleep you need. The best ways to lengthen your breath are to practice Yoga, Qigong, and Pranayama. Especially before bed. Slower breathing is a sign of efficient lungs, good health, and deep sleep will result.
Natural Supplements to consider:
If your self-healing doesn’t give you great z’s, consider Zinc, Vitamin B-12, Valerian, Hops, Melatonin, L-Tryptophan, 5-HTP 5-Hydroxytryptophan, and Lavender Aromatherapy.
When all else fails and you want professional help, look for these powerful natural healing techniques. Acupuncture, Hypnosis, Homeopathy, BioFeedback, and Brain music.
“But Pooh couldn’t sleep. The more he tried to sleep the more he couldn’t. He tried counting Sheep, which is sometimes a good way of getting to sleep, and, as that was no good, he tried counting Heffalumps. And that was worse. Because every Heffalump that he counted was making straight for a pot of Pooh’s honey, and eating it all. – A.A. Milne, Winnie the Pooh