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Three ways to improve your sleep for good

Three ways to improve your sleep for good

by Grace Ganel, L.Ac., Dipl.Ac. C.Z.B.

Insomnia comes in many shapes and forms. Trouble falling asleep, trouble staying asleep, restless sleep… It can be a sign that something is more deeply wrong, so it’s always a good idea to tell your doctor that you’re having trouble sleeping. And, here are three things you can change in your daily lifestyle to catch more and better Z’s! These lifestyle changes are most effective when done consistently - adopt these habits, and they can really change your sleep for good.

1) Daily Routine

Going to sleep at the same time, and waking at the same time, every day is a great way to improve your sleep quality. This is because of the way the circadian rhythm, the body’s natural sleep-wake cycle, works. Your body keeps the score through hormonal functioning. If you go to bed at the same time each day, your body will learn to make melatonin, the sleepy hormone, at the right time of day to put you out consistently.

One way that this works is through our relationship with light. The part of the brain that manufactures melatonin, the pineal gland, does so in response to darkness. So when we expose ourselves to a lot of light close to when we go to bed, we’re training the pineal gland to wait longer to make melatonin (until you finally turn the lights off). This can be a big contributor to having trouble falling asleep. To keep your melatonin routine consistent, consider putting your phone, tablet, and TV to bed at least an hour or two before you put yourself to bed, and keep the lights dimmer closer to your bedtime.

2) Diet and Exercise

Alcohol, caffeine, and sugar can disrupt sleep. Especially if you find that you wake after you’ve been asleep for a few hours, alcohol and sugar may be to blame. If you’re struggling to stay asleep, it’s a good idea to minimize or cut entirely caffeine, sugar, and alcohol.

In Chinese medicine, when we wake spontaneously in the middle of the night this can be due to a lack of cooling substances in the body, especially if you’re hot when you wake up. In this case, it’s a good idea to drink plenty of water, eat a healthy, balanced diet that includes dark leafy greens, fish, red beans, no more than ¼ cup of nuts per day, and moderate to small amounts of red meat.

But what if you’re not hot when you wake up. You’re just planning things, running through your to-dos, and your mind or even your body feel restless and wired. Here’s where exercise can help! Get moving even just a little every day. That’s because these symptoms are due to stagnation of qi according to Chinese medicine. It can also be helpful to put your to-dos into a list for you to be present with tomorrow before you go to bed. If you wake with something to add to the list, just add it to the list (keep it nearby for this reason) and tell yourself, “I’ll get to it tomorrow,” so you can let go and go back to sleep.

3) Acupressure

It’s always good to have ways to help yourself in the moment! My favorite point to massage when I’m struggling to fall or stay asleep is called an mian, quiet sleep. To find it, put your fingers right under your earlobes and slide them towards the back of your head until you’re right on top of the first bony prominence you encounter. Slide just behind that bone (towards the back of your head) until you fall into a divot, and you're in the point! Gently massage the point in small circles, or whatever feels good. You can do one or both sides, whatever feels most comfortable in your preferred sleeping position.

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This blog is not intended to replace medical or psychological care. Please consult your doctor or therapist if you are having trouble sleeping.


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