Q: Dear Dr. Mao, I’ve been suffering from insomnia for more than 10 years now. It’s catching up with me now and has affected my family life in a lot of ways, especially with my children. I want to do more things and activities with them and it has shortened my temper and patience because I am tired all the time and sometimes I get depressed from lack of sleep. Please can you give some advice how to fight this “disease”? I am so desperate to find the answers and solutions to my problem.
A: Insomnia, especially of such a prolonged duration has wide ranging affects on the body. Your observations about your temper, energy level, and depression are correct; these are symptoms of shifting hormones and energy patterns in the body as it is continually deprived of rest.
In Traditional Chinese Medicine, nighttime is Yin Time and it is during this time that the body regenerates and the energy patterns recycle. For proper sleep to occur the mind needs to be restful, the spleen heart and liver play a key role in adequate and restful sleep. When excessive anxiety, worry and overwork effect the spleens inability to generate blood this affects the heart blood and the mind is restless and cannot fall asleep. Anger and irritability affect the liver and cause liver fire disturbing the mind and thus causing insomnia.
There are many lifestyle, dietary and therapeutic tools available to deal with insomnia. I will list some of these here, but also suggest that you consult a licensed Traditional Chinese Doctor to determine specific course of treatment for you. You can find a licensed practitioner in your area by searching at www.acupuncture.com
In the mean time try these remedies:
½ cup of cultured natural yogurt 1 hour before bed for one week.
Valerian tea before bed for one month. Or valerian extracts drops, 15 drops 30 minutes prior to bedtime for one month.
A glass of warm milk with honey before bed may help with mild insomnia.
Things to avoid include coffee, soft drinks, tea, chocolate candy or desserts, drinks with sweeteners, foods with preservatives such as MSG, spicy foods, and hard to digest foods (like raw vegetables). Also, avoid eating at least two hours before bedtime, especially heavy protein rich foods.
Redo your bedroom. No TV, Pets or plants in the bedroom at night. Go to sleep no later than 11 PM if you can not sleep within the first 20 minutes, get up and go to another room. Read a book until you feel drowsy, then return to the bedroom. The bedroom needs to be only for sleeping. Change the air in the bedroom by opening the windows for 30 minutes prior to going to bed.
Additional supplements that might help include calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, vitamin B and E, and L-Tryptophan. 5HTP and inositol are amino compounds that may also be beneficial to take in supplement form, in addition to Kava, which has long been used to produce sedative effects in people. Melatonin has also proven to be an effective supplement to take to combat insomnia, however, it’s better to increase your melatonin levels naturally rather than through supplementation. You can easily raise your melatonin levels naturally by practicing regular meditation. I recommend that my patients who suffer from insomnia meditate nightly, 15 minutes before going to bed.
Here is a good 15-minute meditation exercise that can help prepare your body for restful sleep:
Sit or lounge on a comfortable chair making sure your back is well supported.
Cross your legs at the ankles, cross your arms at wrists and place them on your chest, where your heart is with palms facing the chest. Tilt your head slightly downwards so that your chin is almost touching your chest.
Close your eyes and begin clearing your mind. Begin breathing regularly Slowly and periodically slow down your breathing to a deep long inhale and exhale.
With each breath focus on an area of your body beginning from the head and ending with your feet. Spend some time in each area ensuring that all muscles and joints are completely relaxed.
From the head progress to the shoulders and upper back, then to the chest and abdomen, then to the upper and lower legs eventually ending at the feet.
Conduct this meditation for 15 minutes, if your mind wonders, gently return It back. After completing the exercise, do not watch television or do house chores, either go to sleep or simply lie down and read a book.
You may also want to try the “Calm-fort/Sleeping” supplement, “Emotional Tranquility” tea or “Sleep” herbal formula by Traditions of Tao in addition to my other suggestions. Of course, discuss with your physician before beginning any new health regime.