My friend, Joanne Eng, contributed the following article on insomnia, drawing from her research and personal experiences. It’s very informative and offers some wonderful tips on how to get a good night’s sleep. Joanne is currently pursuing her Master Degree in Acupuncture and Traditional Chinese Medicine at Yo San University. Enjoy!
The Adverse Effects of Poor Sleep
A good night’s sleep is absolutely vital to your health. Most adults require 6 to 8 hours of sleep. Not enough sleep, or too much sleep, can have an adverse effect on your health and well-being.
Poor sleep over a long period of time can weaken your immune system, accelerate tumor growth, cause a pre-diabetic state (a desire to eat more when you’ve already eaten), impair your memory and physical performance, and decrease your ability to solve problems.
What affects the quality of your sleep?
It starts with serotonin, which is converted to melatonin in the pineal gland in the brain – one of the hormones that help you fall asleep and stay asleep all night.
Serotonin is a neurotransmitter and one of the chemical communicators in the brain. The level of serotonin has a direct effect on your mood, energy, as well as your mental and physical performance.
If serotonin is at a normal level, you enjoy sharp focus and keen concentration, and you feel happy and energized. You also enjoy a good night sleep.
However, if your serotonin level becomes imbalanced you may experience depression, anxiety, irritability, rage, lack of focus and concentration, poor memory and sleep disturbances. Physically, you may also experience body pain, headaches and irritable bowel syndrome.
What actually causes serotonin levels to drop is not known to medical science, despite extensive research on the subject. But thankfully, there are ways to increase serotonin levels, and these include diet, exercise, and exposure to sunlight, i.e., a healthy lifestyle.
How to improve the quality of your sleep?
The key to getting a good night’s sleep is to keep a balanced serotonin level in your body, which, as mentioned, can be achieved through proper diet and a healthy lifestyle. Here is a lengthy list of tips to help keep the serotonin in your body where it should be:
1. Eat a well-balanced diet
including quality protein, good fats, non-starchy vegetables, and carbohydrates.
2. Have a good source of tryptophan.
Serotonin is produced from tryptophan, one of the essential amino acids. Foods rich in tryptophan include almonds, cottage cheese, peanuts, peanut butter, shellfish, tofu, tempeh, miso, tuna and turkey.
3. Consume good fats and avoid damaged fats.
Contrary to common belief, fats are vital to our health. But not all fats are created equal. You want to use good fats, such as extra virgin olive oil (cold pressed), grape seed oil, almond oil and oil in nuts and seeds.
And avoid damaged fats, such as rancid fats (e.g., when butter turns dark yellow or oils go brown), fried foods, hydrogenated and partially hydrogenated fats, polyunsaturated fats (processed out of their natural state by using very high temperatures).
4. Avoid excessive consumption of substances
such as caffeine, recreational drugs, alcohol, and other stimulants. They tend to disrupt the serotonin balance.
5. Exercise regularly.
Aerobic exercise can improve your sleep by reducing stress, tiring you out, and regulating your body temperature. The best time to exercise for improved sleep is in the late afternoon.
6. Manage stress
by taking many short breaks. Balancing the yin and yang (rest and work) is one of the keys to sleeping well at night.
7. Sleep in complete darkness,
or as close to it as possible. Use blackout curtains or drapes to block out light. Artificial light at bedtime can disrupt your internal clock and your pineal gland’s production of serotonin.
8. Keep your bedroom temperature no higher than 70 degrees F.
Temperatures that are too warm or too cold can cause sleepless nights. I usually open my window to let fresh air in.
9. Reserve your bedroom for sleep only.
Avoid using your bed to study, watch TV, or do computer work. Your bedroom should be your sanctuary for rest and sleep.
10. Avoid drinking fluids at least two hours before bedtime.
This will reduce your urination at night. If you get thirsty, just take some small sips of water.
11. Take a hot bath.
12. Play some soft music,
like classical, or whatever style you prefer, as long as it is smooth and mellow. It will help you de-stress and unwind your day.
13. Allow yourself at least 45 minutes to an hour to unwind
before you lie down to bed. Avoid any activities that are stimulating (e.g., finances or computer work).
14. Have a cup of herbal tea
with chamomile, valerian or passionflower to induce drowsiness. My favorite is SleepyTime Tea by Celestial.
15. Do some breathing exercises
to relax your mind. Inhale deeply through your nose, filling up your abdomen with air, and then your lungs; afterwards, exhale slowly through your mouth. You should begin to feel calm and relaxed after a few cycles of breathing.
16. Spend some quality time with your beloved pet.
Believe it or not, animals absorb stress and help you relax.
17. Meditate for a few minutes.
Meditation/prayer can help you let go of the day and bring you to a restful and peaceful mental state.
18. Try some melatonin supplements if necessary.
Personally, I like Now Foods Melatonin. Take one tablet with water mear bedtime to enjoy a restful sleep.
19. Try Chinese herbs.
Suan Zao Ren Tang Tablet is the one I use, and it works quite well for me. Talk to an herbalist and see if it’s appropriate for you.
20. Soak your feet in hot water for a few minutes.
Apply soothing lotion and put socks on. It will help you relax and prepare you for a good night’s sleep.
21. Keep a bedtime journal.
If you can’t go back to sleep in the middle of the night because your mind wanders and you feel restless, get out of bed and write down your concerns, or make a to-do list on a piece of paper. This will help you release your anxieties and put your mind at ease.
22. Go to bed by 11pm if you can.
Between 11pm and 1am is the peak time for your body to release toxins, recharge and heal, so allow it to do its job.
23. Apply a little organic lavender oil
on your pillow, behind your ears, or around your joints. Lavender oil is a wonderful relaxer!
24. Try acupuncture.
Finally, if your sleeping disorder persists, consider acupuncture. This ancient healing art combined with herbs can be very helpful for insomnia or sleeping disorders.
I hope you find this information helpful. If you have any other tips on how to get a good night’s sleep, please share them with the rest of us!