Insomnia is on the rise these days for so many people, young and old. Many cases seem to be due to our new state of remote working, or at least to how much more often we are on devices. This is especially true for children who can’t seem to get away from their screens. There is also so much going on in the world, with the war in Ukraine and the threat of climate change in the not-too-distant future, that almost everyone has some form of stress response.
So, what can we do about this all-too-common problem? Implementing practices that help calm the mind and the nervous system, changing our habits, and taking certain herbal medicine can all help. Let’s start with the things we can do for ourselves.
1 Qigong and Tai Chi
Qigong is an ancient system of exercise similar to the more familiar tai chi that uses slow movement, self-massage of acupuncture pathways, and conscious breathwork to move one’s energy through the body. It boosts the immune system, lowers blood pressure, improves balance, calms the mind, and relieves anxiety. Qigong and tai chi are gentle and safe for people of all ages. Qigong is becoming more popular in the U.S., so try your local library or community recreation resources to find out if there is a class near you, or find one on Zoom, YouTube, or elsewhere online.
There are many forms of meditation available. In guided meditation, a practitioner is leading you with breath work or a body scan or is taking you on a journey to another place. You can also work on focusing your breath on your own, but this can be difficult if you’re just starting out. Some meditation apps offer music or nature sounds to relax as well. Using an app can be very helpful rather than trying to do it on your own. Because it is something they can turn to when they feel stressed, children can also benefit greatly from meditation. I suggest meditating together with your children if they are young, as this will start them out at a young age with calming tools they will become comfortable with.
3 Exercise Outdoors
Moving your body creates chemicals in the brain called endorphins, also known as feel-good hormones. These chemicals can help create a positive outlook on life and completely change your mood. Exercising outside has the added benefit of sunlight, which is thought to increase the brain’s release of serotonin, helping you to feel calm and focused.
4 Set a Regular Bedtime
Our bodies adapt to circadian rhythms, which work on a 24-hour cycle. If we do things like wake up, eat, and sleep at the same time every day, our bodies are programmed to be ready for those activities. For instance, if we go to bed earlier than usual our body is not ready for sleep. According to Chinese medicine it is best to go to sleep between 9–11 pm, since 11 pm–1 am is the time of the gallbladder, which is releasing bile (see the Chinese Clock on page 20). We need to be resting when this is happening so the body can fully restore.
From 1–3 am, the liver nourishes and cleans the blood. If we are not in a deep sleep during this time the blood is not able to flow back to the liver to be cleansed, preventing fresh blood from being made. Chinese medicine dictates that if we don’t have this nourishment every night the organs will become out of balance, which lead to serious emotional and physical health issues. As so many of us have experienced, not getting enough sleep creates a foggy mind, emotional instability, and a weakened immune system.
5 Eating at Regular Times
Chinese medicine also has ideal times for eating:
- From 7–9 am is the time of the stomach, which likes warm, moist foods but not too rich or sweet. Grain porridges are a perfect morning meal according to this system, but we must remember not to use presweetened hot cereals or to add sweetener.
- 9–11 am is the spleen time, which is perfect for digesting breakfast, exercising, and doing work that takes mental concentration.
- Lunch is best between 11 am–1 pm. This is heart time, which correlates to fire and yang energy. During this time, we should have richer foods with small amounts of cool or raw foods. Our typical American lunch diet of salads or cold foods can cause bloating or fatigue after eating. Hot soup, whole grains, and steamed veggies may be better choices.
- 3–5 pm is the time of the bladder, when it is sending waste to the kidneys. Many people get very tired at this time of day, possibly due to digesting a heavy, greasy meal or a cold meal as mentioned above.
- Dinner is best had between 5–7 pm. This is the time of the kidneys, which is more of a yin energy. Unfortunately, many people are still working during this time. A cup of warm tea or light miso soup can support the kidneys and prevent adrenal fatigue. Food should be nourishing and light. Roasted fish and clean meats with veggies are good choices, as long as it’s before 7 pm.
- From 7–9 pm is the time of the pericardium. Activities that create happiness and joy to the heart are excellent during this time.
- 9–11 pm is the time for the triple burner, which is a system that connects all parts of the body together. Sleep should occur during these hours so the triple burner can heal and unite the body, preparing it for the following day.
On the underside of the wrist in line with the pinky finger is a point called Heart 7, which is known as the “Spirit Gate.” When applying pressure to this point it can relieve energy blockages for the spirit, mind, or emotions. Hold the point with your other thumb and press or massage it for approximately 30 seconds.
7 Lavender Essential Oil
Lavender has been used for centuries as a remedy for nervousness and anxiety. Just smelling the fresh or dried plant can do the trick but using it in the form of lavender essential oil may be more convenient and is extremely effective. Using an essential oil diffuser disperses the scent throughout the room, making the whole environment feel like a calm oasis. Two drops can also be placed on a tissue or your pillow when going to sleep. It can be mixed into oil such as almond or olive oil for a relaxing massage. Lavender is believed to act as a sedative in the parts of the brain that deal with emotions, bringing a sense of calm and positivity to the mind.
Ashwaganda is an herb that has been used in Ayurvedic medicine in India for hundreds of years. Ashwaganda is an adaptogen that can balance your energy if you are run down or overstressed, and it also helps equalize cortisol levels, which rise drastically when someone is under stress and can lead to inflammation and burn out. It won’t make you tired or stimulated, but help you feel calm and balanced. It can be taken in pill, powder, or liquid but make sure you get a good quality brand, so you know you are getting the real thing. This can also be taken in a formula with a few other herbs that work well synergistically together.
Chamomile is an herb that has been used since the time of the Greeks and Romans for calming the mind and aiding insomnia. Flavonoids, quinones, and phenolic acids are the compounds present in chamomile that help create a relaxing effect. It also helps to reduce stress related headaches and loss of appetite. A nice soothing cup of chamomile tea is just what the doctor ordered before bed to help you sleep soundly and peacefully.
10 Chinese Herbal Medicine
There are many Chinese herbal formulas to help with insomnia. A Chinese medical practitioner who is well trained in herbal medicine can diagnose your condition and find out what is causing the issue. Is it anxiety or stress, is it the diet, or is it perhaps a weakness that needs tonifying? There is not one specific treatment for insomnia from a Chinese medical point of view because there can be many root causes for this condition. Each individual is assessed to determine the best treatment for them and their unique situation. Chinese herbal formulas are complex formulas with many herbs, so it is important to work with a knowledgeable practitioner with experience in Chinese herbal medicine.
There are many options for addressing insomnia, from lifestyle changes and diet to herbal medicine, that can help resolve the underlying cause. Don’t hesitate to get help resolving insomnia because when it is not managed properly and in a timely manner, your overall health can deteriorate quickly.
Donna Bunte, MSOM, LAc, of Donna Bunte Whole Health is a licensed acupuncturist, Chinese medical practitioner, integrative nutrition health coach, and qigong and meditation teacher. She has been helping people get healthy, have more energy, and feel good about themselves since 1995. Donna can be reached at her office at 203.698.0793, cell at 203.253.9885, or email email@example.com. Visit www.donnabunte.com and find her on Facebook at facebook.com/donnabuntewholehealth and Instagram at: instagram.com/donnabuntewholehealth/.