People think insomnia is a complicated issue, but it needn’t be. By taking a comprehensive approach, you can see improvements to your sleep quality within just a few days.
As an acupuncturist, I’ve written about insomnia from a Chinese medical perspective, so I’ll use this forum as more ‘how-to’ guide on steps you can take now to begin sleeping well right away. I’m breaking my advice into three categories, lifestyle, supplements and techniques.
You’ll want to make lifestyle adjustments first and use additional tools like supplements when you’re looking for additional support.
Sleep hygiene used to be a buzz word, but the term has faded away because no one knew what it meant. It refers to creating a ritual around sleep where you give yourself time to wind down before going to bed. It also relates to consistency. Going to sleep around the same time every night, drinking tea, meditation, and stretching can all be incorporated into this routine.
Exercise is hands-down one the most effective ways to improve sleep quality. Not only does it provide an emotional release from life’s daily stressors, it also helps with detoxification, neurohormonal balance, circulation, and pain relief. You’ll also sleep better when you’re physical tired and mentally calm.
Diet includes caffeine and alcohol. In our wired and tired society, many of us use caffeine to get going (or push through fatigue) and alcohol to calm down. Ironically, both of these substances can have unintended consequences.
- Caffeine in the afternoon can have an effect which carries over to bedtime. You may feel exhausted, but your mind won’t let you sleep. From a TCM perspective, the heart needs to be strong enough to contain the spirit at night. If the heart is too weak, the spirit escapes and you wake in the middle of the night
- Caffeine depletes cortisol. The coffee buzz results from cortisol unlocking stored blood sugar (glycogen). Too much coffee can deplete cortisol reserves and disrupt circadian rhythms.
- While alcohol is primarily a depressant and should aid in sleep, it often has the opposite effect. Why? About 3 hours into your sleep, your body begins cleaning the alcohol out of your body resulting in a need to get up and go pee. If you have over-imbibed, your liver will also produce a chemical called acetaldehyde, a primary contributor to hangovers. Want to know more on how alcohol affects your sleep? Here’s a quick read from Huffpost.
The main idea of meditation is to calm the mind. It follows that a person with a calmer mind will have an easier time falling asleep, and achieve longer periods of sustained sleep. So how do you do it? If you’re not a meditator, it’s best to start small and simple. Like anything, learning a new skill takes practice.
Here’s a quick way to start.
- Find a quiet, comfortable place sit upright.
- Set a timer for 5-10 minutes on your phone
- Close your eyes and begin counting your breaths
- Notice your mind wandering and come back to the breath
- Hang in there until the timer goes off!
Use of Valerian (Valeriana officinalis)use dates back to Greek and Roman times and is the most commonly used herbal product to induce sleep in both the United States and Europe. A meta-analysis of 16 studies including 1093 patients showed mixed results with the authors concluding that Valerian may help with onset of sleep. 1
Key benefits: stress relief, reduces time to fall asleep,
Dosage: 700 mg 1-3 times/day; Daytime dosage may promote sleepiness
Cautions: Some people report strange dreams when taking Valerian root
Recommended brands: Gaia Herbs, HerbPharm, MediHerb
Kava (Piper methysticum) is a Pacific herb consumed worldwide for medicinal, recreational and cultural purposes and was often taken by rival tribal leaders prior to negotiations to facilitate harmony in the process. Significant controversy exists over the use of Kava because its use in Europe was reported to cause liver damage (hepatotoxicity). This study in the British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology sheds some light on the issue and clarifies what actually happened. Suffice it say, that Kava is safe when 1) the leaf is used (not the root) and 2) it is taken as an aqueous extract (extracted in water) rather than as an alcohol extract. Personally, I have taken this herb at four times the recommended dose without issue.
Key benefits: anxiety and stress relief, promotes deeper sleep
Dosage: Tablet or extract containing 50 mg kavalactones, 1-3 times/day;
Cautions: The FDA has issued a warning on this herb based on the above information. Nursing and pregnant women should avoid this herb.
Recommended brands: Gaia Herbs, HerbPharm, MediHerb
CBD Oils and THC Bath Balms
With improvements in the extraction process, implementation of quality controls, recent changes in legal status, the cannabis industry has made significant advances in recent years. Used appropriately, CBD-only and CBD/THC extracts can be a terrific resource for those struggling with sleep. As with all products, you’ll need to find product and dosage that works best for you.
Key benefits: anxiety and stress relief, promotes sense of wellness, assists in sleep onset
A 2009 study published by the Journal of Alternative & Complementary Medicine reviewed Forty-six (46) randomized trials involving 3811 patients concluding that ‘while acupuncture appears to be effective in treatment of insomnia, further large, rigorous designed trials are warranted.’2
I have created both custom and stock treatment protocols for sleep. Generally my patients need a combination of energy restoration and stress relief, so I employ acupuncture points that calm the mind, relieve stress, and support the adrenal glands. Ask your acupuncturist to try this protocol on you: H7, GB 40, SI 6, Lv 3, Si Shen Cong (don’t try and figure it out, just pass it on).