Chinese Medicine Aids Deep Sleep to Revitalize Mind and Body

By Sally Perkins

It is widely recognized that sleep is essential for good health, and new research confirms that irregular and insufficient sleep can lead to a greater risk of experiencing metabolic disorders. Chinese medicine places importance on preventative measures to help the body remain balanced and free from disease, and its treatments and formulas have been shown to be effective in aiding deep and restful sleep. This is when critical body restoration takes place, resulting in increased immunity, the correction of internal imbalances and the strengthening of organ function. In addition, quality sleep, during which REM is experienced, can help stimulate and heal the mind.

Sleep to Stimulate The Mind

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Reaching the REM stage of sleep is important as this is when neural connections essential to health and well-being are made. REM only takes place after 90 minutes of sleep, so to aid a deeper sleep, jujube seed is often prescribed as it strengthens circulation and calms the mind. REM is also the period of sleep where dreams most often occur, as activity in the brain resembles that seen during wakefulness. During REM sleep, it becomes possible to stimulate lucid dreams where control can be exerted over the unconscious self and the fabric of its surroundings. As the wonders of the mind are explored, lucid dreaming can promote emotional healing, help overcome fears and encourage problem solving.  Occasionally, even when the REM stage of sleep is successfully reached, some people may experience REM sleep behavior disorder (RBD) where they act out their dreams physically, so disrupting their sleep. However, studies have shown that, as well as aiding restful sleep, herbal remedies are as effective as tranquilizers and antidepressants in treating RBD.

Rest to Repair The Body

Sleep is vital for the body to grow and repair muscles, organs and other cells, so ensuring a good night’s sleep is essential to avoid serious health issues. For over 2000 years, a variety of Chinese medicines and formulas have been successfully used for the treatment of insomnia and other sleep disorders. In Chinese medicine, insomnia is typically linked to heart function and so the heart tonic Fu Ling is recommended as it also has a sedative effect. As well as herbal remedies, studies show that acupuncture can improve the quality of sleep. It triggers the release of neurotransmitters including serotonin, which helps to regulate sleep patterns and induce REM sleep.

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A good night’s sleep is vital for health and well being. Herbal medicines and alternative treatments aid restful sleep, and once the body and mind are relaxed, balance and health can be restored.


Featured image photo by Kinga Cichewicz on Unsplash



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Calming & Balancing Congee for Better Sleep

By NourishU

Insomnia in Chinese Medicine

There are many factors contributing to insomnia such as an unhealthy lifestyle, irregular sleeping habits, eating the wrong foods or eating too much, external disturbances, stress, psychological issues, illnesses or drug-related problems, etc. Western medicine uses vitamins, amino acids, and minerals such as magnesium and calcium for prevention. Sleeping pills, hormones and tranquilizers are commonly used to fight insomnia but they can be habit forming and are not addressing the root of the problem. They should only be used very briefly when absolutely necessary because prolonged usage can make the matter worse and create more health problems. The lack of genuine sleep can deprive the body of the critical body functions being performed at night and can lead to lower immunity, internal imbalances and organs malfunction.


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To treat insomnia, it is necessary to treat the root of the problem. Eating too full at dinner or eating too late or eating the wrong foods such as coffee, tea, alcohol, spicy food and hard to digest food can all affect sleep and can be easily avoided. If it is due to external disturbances such as light, noise or electrical smog, etc.; follow the rules to make your bedroom a sleeping sanctuary so that you have the perfect conditions to induce sleep. Don’t under estimate the power of ear-plugs which can numb your senses and lower your guard effectively. They do work for easing anxiety too. If it is due to other illness such as digestive problems; treat the illness and sleep will return. If it is due to psychological reasons; try to peace your mind by meditation, relaxation exercise, journaling, music, hypnotherapy, etc. Exercising outdoor, such as jogging, can force you to breathe more deeply and with more oxygen intake, it can help to relax your mind and body. Sweating helps the body to expel toxin and therefore helps to release tension. Also, you will get tired after exercising which makes falling asleep easier.

When insomnia persists for a long period of time, it is important to focus on repairing the damages done to the body especially to the liver, kidney and heart. If the damages remain in-repaired over time, they can become both the causes and effects of insomnia and treatment will be more difficult.

L-tryptophan

According to science, food rich in L-tryptophan such as red meat, dairy products, nuts, seeds, bananas, soybeans, soy products, tuna, shellfish, and turkey can promote sleep because L-tryptophan is the essential amino acid that helps the body to produce serotonin and melatonin, the hormones that regulate sleep. Serotonin can also impact our mood, psychological health and behaviour. Serotonin is found in greatest concentration in our gut so it makes perfect sense to nourish our gut flora for optimal serotonin level to promote better sleep.

Calcium and Magnesium

Deficiencies of calcium and magnesium may cause easy waking. Dietary sources of magnesium include dried beans, soybeans, pumpkins seeds, wheat germ, almonds and leafy green vegetables such as spinach and Swiss chard. Calcium can be found in many different foods, including dairy products, fish, broccoli, almonds, dried figs, kelp, prunes, rhubarb, seaweed, soybeans, sesame seeds, watercress, dandelion greens, amaranth and chickweed. Taking a combined calcium-magnesium tablet 30 minutes before going to bed is helpful. Kiwi fruit is extremely high in calcium, taking 2 everyday will find great improvement in sleep quality. The enzyme in kiwi can calm gut swelling, also helpful in promoting sleep.

Sleep on Time

If you are fighting insomnia, you must firstly observe the proper sleeping hours. It is vitally important to be in bed and in complete rest between 11 p.m. to  6 a.m. even if you cannot sleep. This will enable blood to return to the liver for the important detoxification and renewal process. Staying up at night will draw blood away from the liver. It is equally important to be up in the morning and during the day so that the other yang bodily functions can be performed properly. When necessary, napping for half an hour during noon time can support the heart and provide energy for the rest of the day. Sleeping any longer during the day can disrupt sleep at night.


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Chinese medicine regards sleep as number one priority for health and insomnia is most detrimental. For people who are not sleeping between 11 p.m. to 1 a.m., the gall bladder system is highly compromised. It can lead to gall bladder stones, weaker immune system, slower metabolic functions and general weakness. For people who are not sleeping between 1 a.m. to 3 a.m., the important liver functions of detoxifying and replenishing blood are disrupted. Blood deficiency can lead to many illnesses such as premature aging, osteoporosis, blood related diseases and women diseases, etc. When the liver is weakened, it cannot support the other vital organs properly and can lead to stomach and spleen deficiencies, kidney deficiencies, heart deficiencies and lung deficiencies. There is also higher chance of getting liver related diseases such as hepatitis, high cholesterol and eyes diseases.

Chinese medicine treatments are to reinforce qi, replenish blood, nourish yin, clear liver fire, remove stagnant energy, harmonize stomach energy, and calm the nerve and mind. Chinese herbal remedies are necessary to control adverse symptoms and to rectify imbalances. Herbal medicines are non-hypnotic in nature and are not habit forming. Once adverse symptoms are under control, nutritional food therapy will be used to help the body to recover and regain its original functions.

Food Cures

Food cures such as dates, wheat, longan fruit, lily flower and egg yolk are commonly used for nourishing the heart, promoting yin and calming the mind. Seafood such as oysters, clams, fish, shrimp and eel, are high in zinc and copper and are good for calming the nerve and easing anxiety. Oatmeal, sweet potato, banana and tomato are good for promoting sleep. Cherries are naturally high in melatonin. Eating eight ounces of cherries in the morning and eight ounces at night consecutively for two weeks can help to restore sleep. Lemon-scented mint tea is sleep-inducing because it improve digestion and decreased agitation.

Calming the Gut

Our gut is like our second brain which can be easily affected by our mind and emotion. Calming the gut can help to quiet the mind. If a restless mind is keeping you awake, eat a light carbohydrate snack right before sleep such as whole grain cereals with organic milk, bread, biscuits or an organic yogurt with good bacteria can be helpful. The key is to combine carbs with a protein containing tryptophan to help your body better utilize the sleep inducer. If you need this remedy in the middle of the night, make sure you are not turning on any light which can affect your melatonin level.

Calming & Balancing Congee Recipe

Symptoms

Restless sleep due to anxiety and over worrying, pale looking, lack of energy, loose bowel or occasional palpitation of the heart.

Therapeutic Effects

Calms nerves, enriches blood, removes dampness and fire, improves spleen and kidney health, and promotes yang energy of the heart.

Ingredients (2 to 3 servings)

  • Job's Tears / Coix Lacryma-Jobi (yi yi ren) 薏米 – 30gm
  • Little red bean 赤小豆 – 30gm
  • Longan Fruit (long yan rou) 桂圆 /龍眼肉 – 30gm
  • Chinese Jujube / red dates (da zao) 大枣 – 4 to 6
  • Lotus Seeds (lien zi) 莲子 – 30gm
  • Dried lily bulb / Bulbus Lilii (bai he) 百合 – 30gm
  • Rice – half cup
  • Sugar - to taste

Directions

  1. Soak all herbal ingredients for about 15 minutes and rinse.
  2. Rinse rice and put all ingredients in a pot with about 6 to 8 cups of water. Bring to a boil and lower heat to medium to cook for about 45 minutes to about 3 cups of congee.
  3. Add some sugar if prefer. Eat as meal.

Usage

No restrictions. Most suitable for teens and seniors.


Acupuncture Lays Insomnia To Rest

By Emma Suttie, D.Ac, AP

We will all, at some time in our lives suffer with problems sleeping. Whether it is trouble falling asleep or waking in the night and not being able to get back to sleep again, I think most of us have been there. Although it may not often be the reason someone seeks out acupuncture, in my experience, it is often discovered during the initial consultation. Insomnia is one of those ambiguous problems that is often difficult to treat. I am happy to say that acupuncture works wonders.

Like most things, insomnia has many different causes. This is why Chinese medicine handles it to effectively. Acupuncture treatments are so highly individualistic that things with potentially many causes like insomnia are treated with great results. I can say that it wasn't often that a patient came to see me with insomnia as their chief complaint, but I did find that many people suffer with it, both periodically and on an ongoing basis and that acupuncture always helped to resolve it.

So why is it that insomnia is something people rarely seek treatment for? Well, perhaps because its causes are so numerous. In Chinese medicine, a detailed medical history and thorough analysis of all aspects of a persons health and lifestyle are important for coming to the correct aetiology and diagnosis. In a busy world, doctors don't often have the time to sit down with a patient and really get to the bottom of what is going on. For an acupuncturist, it is an essential part of diagnosis and treatment.

Below are some of the common root causes of insomnia. There are many factors to consider and difficulty falling or staying asleep is often a combination of many factors (physical, emotional, psychological), and not just one or two, but here are some of the common physiological symptoms and their organ interactions to help you better understand why you may be having trouble with your sleeps.

LIVER HEAT/FIRE

If you are experiencing chronic insomnia and have symptoms of irritability, are easily angered, have pains in your ribs and often have a bitter taste in your mouth, it points to too much heat in the liver - an imbalance in the liver system. In TCM the liver is responsible for the smooth flow of qi throughout the body. It stores the blood and its emotion is anger. Any repressed emotions can particularly affect the liver, and excessive anger or frustration is a sign that the liver is out of balance.

TREATMENT PRINCIPLE

For extra heat in the liver causing insomnia the treatment principle is to drain liver heat, and balance out the shen, or mind/spirit. Heat often speeds up not only body processes but thoughts as well, causing the mind to race making it difficult to sleep. Acupuncture is used very effectively to remove excess liver heat and return sleeping patterns to normal.

HEAT & PHLEGM

If you have insomnia with a full, heavy feeling in the chest, have poor digestion and lack of appetite, nausea, dizziness and perhaps also a bitter taste in the mouth, this points to phlegm heat. Another diagnostic tool to use to diagnose heat and phlegm is to look at the tongue, it will often have a yellow, greasy type coating.

TREATMENT PRINCIPLE

The treatment principle for heat and phlegm in the body is to tonify or build up the spleen (a deficient spleen leads to phlegm) and to tonify qi as well so that the spleen has the energy to keep up its vital processes including digestion (it also controls the blood and governs the muscles). We clear heat and tonifying the spleen means it will no longer produce phlegm. The mind is also calmed so that peaceful sleep can be attained. Acupuncture points are chosen to achieve all of this and return the body to relative balance so that sleep can occur naturally.

SPLEEN & HEART DEFICIENCY

Insomnia usually with dreams, poor appetite, fatigue, poor memory and heart palpitations.

TREATMENT PRINCIPLE

Acupuncture is used to build up the spleen and the heart so that they have the necessary energy to perform their important functions in the body. The spleen is responsible for maintaining digestion and the heart dominates the blood and vessels, controls the mind and dreaming and its emotion is joy. If the heart is deficient, all of these functions will be diminished, and sleep will be affected. Moxa (the herb mugwort or Artemisia Vulgaris) is often burned either directly on the skin or on an acupuncture needle to help warm and build up the affected organs and the body in general.

KIDNEY DEFICIENCY

Insomnia with difficulty falling asleep or waking often in the night, a sensation of heat in the palms of the hands, soles of the feet and centre of the chest, night sweats, heart palpitations, dizziness and poor memory. Symptoms can also include a sore lower back and knees.

TREATMENT PRINCIPLE

Acupuncture as well as herbs may be used to build up the kidneys which are responsible for controlling growth, reproduction, and development, they control the body's water metabolism and govern the bones and hearing. Points to build up the kidneys are used as well as points to calm the mind and spirit. Herbs are often used for building up the kidneys as they are so fundamental to so many of the body's processes.

HEART & GALLBLADDER DEFICIENCY

Insomnia with an overall shy or timid nature, easily startled or frightened and difficulty making decisions.

TREATMENT PRINCIPLE

Acupuncture points are chosen to build up the heart and spleen, regulate the gallbladder and calm the mind. The gallbladder governs our ability to think clearly and make decisions, so it is important that it is in good health! Herbs may also be used to help these organs get back into balance so sleep can be achieved.

One of the wonderful things about Chinese medicine is its diversity. Depending on the skill and creativity of the practitioner, there are many ways to treat any problem or imbalance. There are a variety of tools at the TCM practitioners disposal - acupuncture, herbs, moxibustion, electro-acupuncture, tuina (Chinese medical massage) auricular acupuncture, meditation techniques and various martial arts. Any and all of these modalities may be used, and it is up to the practitioner to evaluate which would work best for you.


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