“Our biggest competitor is sleep.”

Reed Hastings, CEO of Netflix

In today’s fast-paced world, with demands of work, family, technology and social obligations, getting a good night’s sleep has become increasingly challenging. Studies have shown that we are sleeping less, raising concerns about physical and mental health. In this blog I share perspectives of both Western and Eastern medicine on sleep and offer suggestions as to how you can improve yours.

The Western Medical Perspective on Sleep

According to modern research, sleep serves multiple crucial functions in the body, beyond just rest. John Peever, director of the Systems Neurobiology Lab at the University of Toronto, describes sleep as a process that re-energizes the body’s cells, clears waste from the brain, and supports learning and memory. Contrary to the misconception that sleep is a passive state, it is, in fact, an active process involving complex brain activity and bodily movements.  A lot of work gets done by the body to prepare for the next day.

The Eastern Medical Perspective on Sleep

In Eastern traditions, sleep is viewed as an essential condition for the body and mind to rest, recover and rejuvenate. According to Hamid Montakab, author of “Acupuncture For Insomnia: Sleep and Dreams in Chinese Medicine,” sleep is viewed through Yin Yang theory.  Sleep happens  where wakefulness, Yang, transitions to rest, Yin, and our bodies go from movement to stillness, from engagement with the outside world to a focus on the inner world of self.  Both are imperative for living a healthy life.

Understanding Sleep Problems

Insomnia, characterized by difficulty falling or staying asleep, is the most prevalent sleep disorder. In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), insomnia is often attributed to imbalances in the body’s Yin and Yang energies. Sun Zhong-ren and Sun Yuan-zheng, authors of “Acupuncture and Moxibustion for Insomnia,” identify energy imbalances in the body that disrupt the functioning of our internal cycles and organs and cause insomnia.  They then prescribe treatment that the acupuncture practitioner can use to address each type of imbalance.

Combined Approaches for Addressing Insomnia

Both Western and Eastern medical systems offer holistic approaches to address insomnia and promote better sleep quality. From lifestyle modifications to alternative therapies, here are some combined strategies recommended for managing insomnia:

  1. Sleep Timing: Healthy sleep is something that can be built from good habits that support the expression of our natural way of being.  Establishing consistent sleep schedules supports the body in expressing its own natural rhythms effectively.  The constant flow of yang and yin around the clock, outward engagement with the world balanced by inward engagement with self replenishment, is best achieved with a consistent time for waking up, even more so than with a constant bedtime, according to Western medicine.  By setting the time you wake up each day you help the body express its natural rhythm and build up “sleep debt” , the need to sleep, during the day.  In Eastern medicine we say that the night begins at noon as that is when the sun begins to go down.  The day begins at midnight as that is when the sun starts to come up.  The concept that  one hour of sleep before midnight is equal to three hours of sleep after is important because the “before midnight” sleep is happening when yin energy is getting stronger while after midnight yang energy is getting stronger and rest would not be as deep.
  2. Temperature Regulation: Maintaining a comfortable sleep environment with regulated temperature aids in optimizing sleep quality.  We are supposed to cool down during sleep and each person needs a slightly different environment than the next.  If you share a bed with a partner or spouse, use whatever means necessary so you sleep at the right temperature for you and your partner sleeps at the best temperature for them.
  3. Sleep In Stages: Moving towards sleep happens in stages. Research shows us that cutting down stimulation in the hours before bed makes the time you spend in bed more fruitful.  Staying away from all screens and avoiding the stimulation to your eyes for at least an hour before bed helps calm the brain in preparation for sleep.  Staying away from the late night snack so your body isn’t digesting food during sleep is also helpful.  Clear your mind of stressful thoughts and problem solving several hours before bed so it can “turn off” during sleep.

Activities That Promote Sleep

  • Turn down the lights! Lowering the light levels in the room you are in and even covering your eyes to keep light out at night can affect the efficiency with which you sleep.
  • Connecting with your body with gentle stretching, massaging one’s feet, hands or face, and deep breathing exercises helps relax your nervous system in preparation for sleep.
  • Listening to soothing music can, according to research, induce relaxation, alter breathing patterns, and slow heart rate, enhancing restful sleep.
  • Aromatherapy and calming scents can help calm the central nervous system and induce a sense of relaxation conducive to sleep. Bath salts with natural oils or the rubbing of essential oils on the skin can support your body’s ability to rest. If you burn a scented candle in your bedroom be sure to blow it out before you go to sleep.
  • Engaging in calming activities, meditation,  and positive thoughts before bedtime can help quiet the mind and promote better sleep.
  • If your sleep is not good please consider going to see a physician who specializes in sleep medicine and/or an acupuncturist/herbalist who can support the aspects of your energy that need support to improve sleep.  Their help can make a big difference!

By understanding the perspectives of both Western and Eastern cultures on sleep, individuals can adopt holistic approaches to address sleep problems, promote restful nights and improve health and energy. Whether through lifestyle modifications, integrative medical care, or, learning about sleep hygiene practices, achieving a good night’s sleep is essential for overall vitality and longevity.

For more information or to schedule a session for yourself, please reach out via [email protected] or visit www.felicedunas.com.

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