A Good Night’s Sleep

By Dr. Elizabeth Wallace, ND

Have you ever had difficulty falling asleep? Or wake up during the night, unable to get back to sleep? Do you feel unrested in the morning? When learning to view insomnia from the standpoint of Chinese Medicine, we first view the body as one harmonious organism, much like the cohesiveness of a forest. Water, or the Kidney, nourishes the growth of Wood, or the Liver, which, in turn, provides material for the necessary element of Fire, or the Heart. When Wood burns, ash provides nourishment for the Earth, or the Spleen. Qi (Chi) is energy and Blood carries nutrients as well as your Spirit, to all parts of the body and mind. If a person presents with fatigue, depression and/or insomnia, a doctor of Chinese Medicine will consider treating Blood deficiency (including but not limited to a diagnosis of anemia) and will often focus on the Heart.

From a Chinese medical standpoint, Blood is involved with most women’s health issues. Any irregularity in the menstrual cycle, including cramps, is viewed as an imbalance in Blood. Pregnancy, birth and breastfeeding require an ample supply of Blood.  Many women do not experience issues with sleep until the birth of a child. Therefore, it important to nourish the Blood after birth and throughout breastfeeding.

If you think you may be blood deficient, it is best to consult with a trained physician.
Typical symptoms that point toward blood deficiency are:

~Pale complexion
~Dry skin, brittle nails, hair loss
~Fatigue, especially during or after periods
~Irregular menses
~Light or short period
~Muscle tension or tingling/numbness in extremities
~Tendency toward constipation or dry stools

Now for the tools to help nourish your blood deficiency and get a good nights sleep. Both Chinese and Naturopathic medicine recommend a whole foods diet — foods that are as close to their natural form as possible. This means avoiding processed foods and sugar.

The single best treatment is eating organic red meat (the only source of heme iron), especially organ meats. Other foods that are good at building Blood are legumes, green leafy vegetables, cabbage, celery, mushrooms, nuts and seeds.

Herbs that help build blood include nettles, wheat grass, spirulina, mugwort, white peony, angelica root, rhemannia root, suan zao ren. Insomnia is rarely just about a Blood deficiency pattern, so it is best to have a practitioner prescribe the specific herbal formula that is tailored to you.  Different herbs are used based on whether you have difficulty falling asleep or for waking up and not being able to fall back to sleep.

I have seen great success using acupuncture. Acupuncture is a broad- spectrum technique at creating balance throughout the entire body.

Finally, create rhythm in your life: Get in bed before 11 p.m. so that your liver doesn’t start using your next days storage of sugar (you need that sugar to get you out of bed in the morning).  Studies have shown that regular exercise (4-5 times a week building a small sweat), increases the quality and quantity of sleep. Avoid strenuous activity and/or stressful situations at night. Both good and bad excitement releases cortisol (the fight or flight hormone) and will keep you awake. (Elevated nighttime cortisol can be balanced with acupuncture, herbs and nutrients). Create a nighttime ritual with a sleepy time tea (perhaps chamomile, passion flower, and lemon balm). Keep your room dark all night. Melatonin is a light sensitive hormone that regulates our circadian rhythm. I personally don’t prescribe melatonin as a supplement, but use other methods, such as rhythm and nutrients, to raise nighttime levels.

With so many different causes and treatments for insomnia, these are a few places to start making some lifestyle changes as suggested by both Chinese and Naturopathic medicines, before you reach for a bottle of pills or a glass of wine. And if you are fortunate enough not to have issues with sleep, take advantage of your natural ability to heal your body and keep it looking and feeling young and healthy. Sweet dreams. . .

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