Insomnia is a sleep disorder characterised by one or more of the following symptoms:
- Difficulty falling asleep
- Waking up often during the night and having trouble going back to sleep
- Waking up too early in the morning
- Feeling tired upon waking
Insomnia can affect anyone independent of age and gender. It can be short term (up to three weeks) or long term (above 3-4 weeks). It can lead to memory problems, depression, irritability, lack of concentration andinability to be effective at work. Insomnia can also increase the risk of heart disease and automobile related accidents.
Those who are having trouble sleeping sometimes turn to sleeping pills, which can help when used occasionally, but may lead to substance dependence or addiction if used regularly for an extended period.
Left unchecked insomnia can become a debilitating condition, as cumulative lack of sleep damages the vital organs in the body.
Causes of Insomnia:
- Chronic pain
- Stress, worry, anxiety, grief, depression
- Irregular sleeping habits
- Alcohol and drug abuse
- Physical illnesses such as digestive disorders, emphysema, restless leg syndrome
- Side effects of drugs
- Frequent Urination
- Overactive Thyroid
- Sleep Apnea
For proper sleep to occur the mind needs to be restful. To attain a state of tranquility one may adopt a variety of strategies depending on the cause of the insomnia. These strategies may include diet, lifestyle changes, relaxation exercises, acupuncture and/or herbal medicine.
Some of the most important nutritional supplements to help calm the mind and strengthen the nervous system are: calcium, magnesium and Vitamin 5 complex.
Some calcium rich foods: cheese, yogurt, milk, sardines, dark leafy greens like spinach, kale, turnips, and collard greens, soybeans. *Studies show most calcium supplements increase heart attack risk.
Some magnesium rich foods: black beans, raw broccoli, halibut, nuts, peanuts, okra, oysters, raw plantain, scallops, punkin and suqash seeds, cooked spinach.
Some Vitamin B Complex rich foods: beef, beef liver, wild salmon, oats, tuna, turkey breast, eggs, bananas, potatoes, avacados, kidney beans, squash, spinish, almond, milk.
- Eat wholesome foods such as green leafy vegetables, whole grains and low acidic foods, asparagus, avocados, apricots, bananas, broccoli, brown rice, figs, salmon, garlic, soy products, mulberries, jujubi, basil, dill, and micro-algae such as slirulina or chlorella.
- Lettuce has a long-standing reputation for promoting healthy sleep, combined with legumes, peanuts, nutritional yeast, fish or poultry.
- Avoid foods with preservatives such as MSG, additives and artificial compounds, soft drinks, tea, chocolate candy or desserts, drinks with sweeteners, spicy foods, and hard to digest foods.
- Avoid caffeine, nicotine, and alcohol late in the day. Caffeine and nicotine are stimulants and can keep you from falling asleep. Alcohol can cause waking in the night and interferes with sleep quality.
- Eat less and do not eat anything for at least one to two hours before bed, especially heavy protein rich foods. A light snack before bedtime, however, may help you sleep.
Good Sleep Habits for Beating Insomnia
Good sleep habits, also called sleep hygiene, can help you get a good night's sleep and beat insomnia. Here are some tips:
- Try to go to sleep at the same time each night and get up at the same time each morning. Unless you are overtired, try not to take naps during the day, because naps may make you less sleepy at night.
- Get regular exercise. Try not to exercise close to bedtime, because it may stimulate you and make it hard to fall asleep. Experts suggest not exercising for at least three to four hours before the time you go to sleep.
- Get to bed before 11 p.m. as one hour of sleep before midnight is worth two hours of sleep after midnight.
- Make your bedroom comfortable. Be sure that it is dark, quiet, and not too warm or too cold. If light is a problem, try a sleeping mask. If noise is a problem, try earplugs, a fan, or a "white noise" machine to cover up the sounds.
- Sleep in natural fiber linens and nightwear as the electromagnetic field created by rubbing synthetic fibers can disrupt sleep patterns.
- Sleep as least 9 feet away from electrical appliances like wall outlets and clock radios.
- Follow a routine to help you relax before sleep. Read a book, listen to music, or take a bath.
- Resolve conflict before going to bed.
- Avoid using your bed for anything other than sleep or sex.
- If you can't fall asleep and don't feel drowsy, get up and read or do something that is not overly stimulating until you feel sleepy.
- If you find yourself lying awake worrying about things, try making a to-do list before going to bed. This may help you to not focus on those worries overnight.
- Mixed with a little lemon juice for flavor, lettuce juice is an effective sleep-inducing drink.
- Try ½ cup of cultured natural yogurt 1 hour before bed for one week
- Valerian tea before bed for one month. Or valerian extracts drops, 10 drops three times per day for one month.
- Glass of Warm milk with honey before bed may help with mild insomnia.
Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) for Insomnia
Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) attributes insomnia to overworking of the mind, fright or disturbance of the Shen or Spirit, irregular or uncontrolled eating and drinking, lack of energy, and prolonged illness.
The Spleen, Heart and Liver play a key role in adequate and restful sleep. Excessive anxiety, worry and overwork weaken the Spleen and affect its ability to generate blood. This affects the Heart Blood causing the mind to become restless. Anger and irritability weaken the Liver and cause Liver Heat to rise disturbing the mind and leading to insomnia.
TCM treats insomnia according to the specific cause of the insomnia, and whether it is caused by an excess condition such as Liver Heat rising, Heart fire, and food stagnation, or by deficiency of Heart Yin, Blood, or Qi.
Mild to moderate insomnia responds well to acupuncture treatments with life style modifications. Moderate to severe cases often respond to herbal prescriptions combined with acupuncture treatments.
Acupuncture - The possible treatment options for insomnia vary greatly, depending on the severity of the condition. Certain acupuncture points have strong sedating qualities, such as points on the wrist (Heart 7) and ear (Shen Men), both of which are named "Spirit Gate," as well as a point between the eyebrows (Ying Tang). When these points are needled, the brain releases natural opiates. The patient frequently falls asleep and wakes feeling relaxed and refreshed. Receiving an acupuncture treatment late in the day reduces stress and promotes restful sleep.
Chinese Herbs - Most cases respond well to variations of Emperor's Tea since it has nourishing sedatives along with herbs that clear heat. A number of effective remedies for insomnia are available in the form of patent medicines, including Emperor's Tea, An Mien Pien - Peaceful Sleeping Pill, and An Shen Bu Xin Wan - Peaceful Shen Tonify Heart Pill.
Chronic insomnia requires herbal therapy that addresses the underlying condition, often consisting of herbs from the category of substances that nourish the Heart and Calm the spirit such as Chai Hu Jia Long Gu Mu Li Tang - Bupleurium Plus Dragon Bone and Oyster Shell Decoction. This formula calms the Spirit, disperses emotional congestion with a background of Liver Qi congestion, digestive issues and wetness congesting.
Mind Body Exercise
It is necessary to reduce stress in daily life, and nurture a positive attitude.
Spend 20 minutes outside in the evening or early morning every day without wearing glasses or contacts. There can be clouds. The natural light strengthens the pineal, pituitary and hyper thalamus glands. This activity helps regulate serotonin, melatonin and dopamine hormones which govern general mood.
Swinging the arms while walking is also good. Enjoying more intense physical activity is also helpful as it regulates the Liver which governs excessive emotions such as anger towards oneself that may lead to depression. Practice the following Qi Gong style outdoors every day if possible.
Be patient as it may take some time to see an improvement in your condition. Like in all health care systems there is no guarantee of success. Focus on the journey and not the destination. Practice No Hurry, No Worry, and Smile from the Heart.
Meditation exercises can help prepare the body for restful sleep such as the Abdominal or Relaxed Breathing exercise described below.
Points to remember when practicing:
- Stay Quiet, Peaceful, Relax
- Smile from the Heart
- Stay within your natural ability.
1. Relaxed Abdominal Breathing
Gently close anus and place the tip of the tongue on upper pallet clsoe to front teeth. Inhale expanding the abdomen in all directions to the count of seven. Exhale letting the chest drop gently towards the hips to the count of ten. The breath must be silent, slow, and unbroken. Repeat 30 times or until you fall asleep.
2. Open with Universe Meditation
In this exercise we relax the body front and back, head to toes, one section at a time. As you focus the mind on a particular part of hte body, inhale opening the body outward as big as the universe. Exhale and relax. Repeat as many times as you wish.
Section 1: Eyebrows; Sides of Head; Shoulders; Elbows; Wrists; Fingers; Middle Finger
Section 2: Face; Throat; Chest; Abdomen; Reproductive organs; Pelvic Floor; Hips; Knees; Ankles; Toes; Big Toe
Section 3: Back of Head; Upper Back; Lower Back; Tail Bone; Back of Knees; Heels; Soles of Feet (Bubbling Spring)
After completing all three sections, focus on expanding every cell of the body out to the universe. The universe is within you.
3. Pores Breathing
The body is open with the Universe. Inhale through the pores of the skin into the center of the abdomen. Exhale out far into the universe. Repeat for 30 breaths.
To end the practice, bring palms to the Lower dantien. Gently rest your mind in the center of the abdomen.
Meditation is important as it opens up your natural healing abilities. The universe is you. You are the universe. Be happy and relaxed with the universe.
4. Natural Walking Qi Gong
It is better to practice natural walking Qi Gong in a clean natural environment. When walking open the Ming Men by curling the tail bone under as if sitting on a chair. The crown of head should touch the sky and the body should be relaxed.
Move from heel to toes pulling the body forward with the front foot once it fully connects with the floor or ground. The opposite leg and arm move at same time. The arms swing naturally back and forth on the sides of the body. Once the walk becomes natural, practice during every day activities relaxed, with a Smile in your Heart.
• Pain medications that contain caffeine, such as Anacin and Excedrin, prescription diet pills, anabolic Steroids, Beta blockers and anti-hypertensive drugs, nasal decongestants that contain ephedrine or other stimulants, Thyroid hormones, antihistamines including the herb ephedra, and some antidepressant medications can cause sleep disturbances.
• Tyramine is a substance found naturally in some foods. It's especially found in aged and fermented foods, such as aged cheeses, smoked fish, cured meats and some types of beer. Also, foods high in protein may contain more Tyramine if they have been stored for a long time or have not been kept cold enough. Tyamine can trigger a migraine and raise blood pressure. It stimulates the stress hormone Norepinephrine leading to insomnia.
Encyclopedia of Natural Medicine, Siegfried Gursche, MH