Insomnia can be frustrating, overwhelming and extremely stressful. But rather than resist it, what if it was your body’s way of trying to tell you something?
This may come as a surprise, but insomnia isn’t just an inability to fall asleep. In fact, there are multiple types of insomnia which can range from lack of ability to fall asleep (onset insomnia) to frequent waking and early waking (maintenance insomnia).
Insomnia can also further be classified as acute insomnia, which is often proportionate to stress levels, elevated cortisol, or environmental changes such as an unfamiliar environment or jet lag. There is also chronic insomnia; this is classified when you have trouble sleeping for at least three days a week over a month or more. Chronic insomnia is often associated with illness or long-term stress. And did you know that for many women there is also menstrual cycle and menopausal related insomnia? Hormones play a huge role in this and can contribute to disturbed sleep patterns.
No matter what type of insomnia you might suffer from, one thing is for sure. It’s frustrating and quite frankly, exhausting.
Sleep deprivation isn’t only just frustrating, when experienced over a long period of time it can become hazardous as it affects our judgement and decision making. Research suggests that we are more likely to make poor choices and put ourselves in more dangerous situations when we are fatigued and sleep deprived. We are also more likely to crave sugary and fatty foods which over time can lead to other health related issues.
Managing and understanding insomnia can be challenging and if it is affecting your overall health, highly recommend that you seek help from a health professional. When I see clients who display clear signs of insomnia or disturbed sleep patterns, I often recommend some simple tasks to help manage it first and if those don’t work, we then take a much closer look into the root of the problem.
Where do you start when it comes to tackling Insomnia?
While avoiding stimulants such as caffeine and sugar close to bedtime is a must, there are other things that can be put into practice to help you better understand your sleep patterns. Exploring possible causes outside ‘the norm’ can, at times, offer a ‘ah-huh’ moment or at least offer an insight into your sleep patterns. Traditional Chinese Medicine for example is one area that often holds a lot of merit. Exploring these types of methods can put an entire new perspective on possible underlying issues that may contribute to insomnia.
Does Traditional Chinese Medicine hold a clue?
Although we might avoid looking at the clock, it is a good idea to take note of the time you are waking each night. Is it the same? In Traditional Chinese Medicine we often refer to what is called the ‘organ clock.’ The organ clock demonstrates the time each organ’s energy is at its peak. Understanding what this means can be helpful if you experience a symptom at the same time each day or night. In the case of insomnia this can be particularly helpful. For example, 1am – 3am is the peak time of the liver. During this time our bodies should be at full rest, allowing our liver to do its job by removing toxins from the body. If you find that you are waking continually during this time, it may mean that you may have concerns with your liver function or detoxification pathways. The perfect example to illustrate this is alcohol consumption. If you regularly consume alcohol and find yourself waking during these hours this may be the reason why!
3am – 5am is known as the peak time of the Lungs. If you have been unwell or recovering from illness like a chest infection you may find that you are waking between these hours coughing. If woken at this time, keep the body warm and perform some gentle breathing exercises. Doing so helps the replenish the body with oxygen.
Are your emotions keeping you up at night?
I have observed thousands of patients who because of unresolved emotions will also wake frequently through the night. Interestingly in line with the Chinese Body Clock and according to Traditional Chinese Medicine, each organ also houses a specific emotion. Identifying the time of waking and the associated organ can provide a window into how our emotions may be impacting our body clock. For example, the emotion of the liver is anger or frustration. If you are waking between 1am – 3am and have unresolved anger or frustration issues, it may be a good idea to commence looking into methods on healing and managing these issues. If you are waking between 3am – 5am, the peak time of the lung, the emotion that is connected to this is grief and sadness. This may be a sign that there is some emotional trauma that you need to work through.
While non-traditional methods may not be your thing, there are other ways you can tackle the causes of insomnia. Below are some of my favourite tips I always recommend to my clients. These are simple and always super helpful when promoting a better night’s sleep.
1. Rather than getting frustrated, get curious.
I have come to understand that sometimes we can’t deal with big issues during the day due to work, kids, life, and distractions. When our body wakes us frequently at night-time, it’s a good time to trust your body is waking you for a good reason and rather than being annoyed, try to work through possible causes instead. If it is an unresolved emotion but you’re not sure where to start, simply ask your body “what is it that you have woken me up for?” and see if something comes to mind. You might be surprised! If you think you have discovered the culprit of your sleepless nights, allow yourself to feel through those feelings and see what happens. I highly recommend meditation and focusing on breath. It is incredible how it can clear the mind.
2. Managing stress!
One of the major causes of sleep deprivation is stress. Looking at ways to manage stressful situations will help greatly. Not only for your sleeping habits, but your overall health. Establishing a healthy balance of diet and exercise along with simple pleasures like massage can really work wonders in getting a restful night of shut eye.
3. Journal it out.
Don’t ever underestimate the power of a big brain dump! If you are like me and millions of other busy people, we are constantly thinking and doing. Journalling is a fantastic way to release the mind of those pesky ‘to do lists’ and bothersome thoughts. If you have something on your mind, don’t sleep on it… journal it!
4. Have a routine.
For those who find it difficult to fall asleep, having a night-time ritual can help wind the body down to best prepare it for rest. Avoiding your phone or screens for at least 1 hour before bed is one of the best things you can do. The projection of blue light from screens tricks the brain into thinking it’s daytime which can upset your cortisol to melatonin ratio. Having a shower and drinking something soothing like camomile tea will calm the body. And don’t underestimate lavender… place a few drops of lavender on your pillow and read under dim light. Trust me, it’s magic!
5. ‘You are where you sleep’!
The environment in which we sleep plays a big part in how we sleep. It’s important to ensure that the temperature is suitable as well as the covers, amount of light in the room, level of noise and comfort level of the bed. Don’t underestimate changing your pillow either! Remember your room is your temple. Remove digital temptations and create a peaceful environment. Your room should always be a place of calm and a place of rest.
There can be many reasons why sleep doesn’t come easy including things that may be out of our control like illness and travel but having a few hacks up your sleeve can really help to switch things up. Importantly, get curious, sleep is the elixir of good health and when you feel rested, you feel great! You can listen to my podcast episode ‘The One Technique You Need For Insomnia’ over at The Wellness Collective.
Source @womenshealth.com.au: Read more at : womenalive.org