Towards a Better Night Sleep
Many people will experience some sleep issues at some point. Sometimes our daily life is more stressful and we feel more agitated at bedtime. While at other times, insomnia surprises us for no apparent reason. If these sleep disruptions happen too often and we can no longer find the necessary rest, the night can even become a source of anxiety.
I regularly see people struggling with sleep disorders in the clinic, whether it is for difficulty falling asleep, interrupted sleep, early awakening, or hypersomnia. Every week, I see how acupuncture can be of significant help to people looking to regain a restful sleep.
In this article, I’ll share with you the perspective of traditional oriental medicine on sleep disorders, along with some additional tips to help you sleep better.
The Yin and Yang of Sleeping
Acupuncture has been used for millennia to rebalance the « Yin » and « Yang » state of the body. Let’s take a closer look at this fundamental concept of traditional oriental medicine, in order to draw a parallel with our current representation of human physiology, and the balance of the autonomic nervous system.
The body naturally seeks to maintain its vital systems in a healthy balance. Biologists call this state homeostasis. In sleep disorders, the autonomic nervous system is usually out of balance, and the body does not go into rest mode. Recent studies show that acupuncture promotes sleep 1,2,3, by modulating the autonomic nervous system, allowing the body to restore its natural balance, its homeostasis 4.
Traditional Chinese medicine describes the different states of the body in another language, but there are many parallels with physiology. The « Yin » state of the body is similar to the state induced by the portion of the nervous system, which signals our organs and vital functions to enter a state of relaxation, a mode favorable to rest, to digestion, and regeneration of the body (this is the parasympathetic branch of the nervous system). The « Yang » state is similar to the state induced by the portion of the nervous system which signals our body to enter alert mode, following stress for example (this is the sympathetic branch of the system. nervous). This state is related to awakening 4.
Thus, in people struggling with sleep disorders, I work in the clinic to restore the balance between their « Yin » and « Yang » state. A biologist could say, in other words, that acupuncture will modulate their nervous system, in order to promote a return to homeostasis!
Life style habits that favor sleep
It has also been shown that adopting certain habits can promote a deeper, restful sleep. Here are a few tips.
Consolidating your circadian rhythm
The circadian rhythm is an internal biological rhythm lasting approximately 24 hours. A desynchronization between internal sleep-wake rhythms and the light-darkness cycle can cause a person to experience insomnia, excessive daytime sleepiness, or both.
Adopting habits that strengthen the circadian rhythm promotes sleep. Among other things, synchronizing our exposure to light and darkness, according to the time of day will help us sleep better 6,7. This can be done by exposing yourself to sunlight or other light sources during the day, and diming the lights in the evening. It is important to reduce your exposure to screens in the evening, as they emit light that mimics the effect of the sun on the body, and stimulates wakefulness. If you can’t reduce your screen time in the evening, consider installing a blue light filter on your devices.
Also, try to maintain a stable waking and sleeping schedule throughout the week. Large variations in the time of getting up and going to bed can contribute to sleep disturbances in some people. Maintaining regular eating hours also has a effect on reinforcing your circadian rhythm.
Relaxing in the evening
Sleep can become difficult when the body remains in a state of hyper-vigilance, when the sympathetic autonomic nervous system takes over the parasympathetic. Take an hour to relax before going to bed, in order to get into a mode that promotes the onset of sleepyness. Try to feel your fatigue better in the evening and go to bed when this drowsiness sets in8.
There are effective relaxation techniques available to calm the body. Much like acupuncture, meditation has been shown to have a modulating effect on our nervous system 9,1,2,3. Today, there are many tools to help us in these exercises, including videos shared on the internet and phone applications.
Exercice during the day
A lifestyle that is too inactive can be harmful to sleep. Studies show that physical activity is an important factor in maintaining quality sleep. However, doing strenuous physical activity late in the evening can interfere with sleep. The best time to exercise would be in the afternoon, 4-8 hours before bedtime 10.
Acupressure involves stimulating an acupuncture point, by massaging and applying pressure to the targeted area. Here are two major acupuncture points used to promote sleep11. You can massage these points in the evening, for 1 to 2 minutes, by applying pressure and small rotations with the tip of a finger.
Anmian: It is located at the base of the skull, behind the ear, at the level of the sternocleidomastodis muscle 11.
Yongquan: It is located under the foot, in the depression in the center of the foot, in the upper third towards the base of the toes 11.
In traditional Chinese medicine, food is seen as an important tool to help us maintain or regain good health. Foods are classified according to their effects on the body. In a context of insomnia, the general recommendation would be to avoid foods considered very « Yang » and to favor foods nourishing the « Yin » 12.
Yin Foods: Certain foods can be eaten more frequently to nourish the « Yin » components of the body. For example, you could incorporate into your diet foods such as oats, tofu, bone broths, berries, sesame, green vegetables, watercress and bean sprouts, seaweed, fish, pears, as well as eggs 12.
A comfort food in traditional Asian cuisine used to support the « Yin » components of the body is Congee, a rice porridge, served either for lunch or as a side dish when convalescing as it is easy to digest. See Congee Recipe
Yang foods: Conversely, it is recommended to avoid or reduce foods that stimulate the « Yang ». For example, you can reduce your intake of coffee, energy drinks, alcohol, spicy foods, ginger, fatty meats, especially in the afternoon and evening 12.
Please note that these dietary tips are general and a thorough evaluation can be done during an acupuncture session, in order to identify the foods to prioritize in your specific case.
Listening to your body
Insomnia can feel very pervasive sometimes, affecting many aspects of our the daily lives. Acupuncture is a powerful ally to help regain restorative sleep. But sometimes a few lifestyle changes are all it takes to get a better night’s sleep. I invite you to put these few tips into practice, and to see if they help. Listen to your body. He will guide you on the path to balance and well-being.
Source for this page:
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3. Guo, J., Wang, L.-P., Liu, C.-Z., Zhang, J., Wang, G.-L., Yi, J.-H., & Cheng, J.-L. (2013). Efficacy of Acupuncture for Primary Insomnia: A Randomized Controlled Clinical Trial. Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, 2013, 1–10. doi:10.1155/2013/163850
4. Cheng, K. 2013 Neurobiological mechanisms of acupuncture for some common illnesses: a clinician’s perspective. Journal of Acupuncture and Meridian Studies. 2014 Jun;7(3):105-14. doi: 10.1016/j.jams.2013.07.008. Epub 2013 Aug 17.
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9.Tang, Yi-Yuan ; Ma, Yinghua ; Fan, Yaxin ; Feng, Hongbo ; Wang, Junhong ; Feng, Shigang ; Lu, Qilin ; Hu, Bing ; Lin, Yao ; Li, Jian ; Zhang, Ye ; Wang, Yan ; Zhou, Li ; Fan, Ming, 2009. Central and autonomic nervous system interaction is altered by short-term meditation, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America [0027-8424] Tang, Y.-Y. yr:2009 vol:106 iss:22 pg:8865 -8870
10. Youngstedt SD, O’connor PJ, Dishman RK. 1997. The effects of acute exercise on sleep: a quantitative synthesis. Sleep. 20(3):203–214
11.Focks, C. 2009. Atlas d’acupuncture, Edition Elsevier, 738 pages
12. Racette, P.E. 2007 Manger le dragon: compendium de diétothérapie en médecine chinoise, CCDMD