A teacher once said to me “please help people who don’t sleep, they are tortured souls.” I don’t think she knew at the time that I had suffered from insomnia since I was four. I almost cried when she said that, for the first time in my life I felt like someone understood.
It’s been a long road to get myself to sleep and if sleeping 8 hours every night, without interruption, is the goal, then I’m still not there. However, I no longer stress about bedtime, stay awake for hours in the middle of the night, or have a hard time getting to sleep.
I used to stay awake until about 1am – because going to bed earlier was pointless. I would just lie there. When I would fall asleep I would wake at least 2 times a night and some nights I would be up for 1-2 hours. It became my nightmare.
I felt tortured. I was irrational, emotional and found myself turning to coffee, alcohol and cigarettes to either get myself in a better mood, keep me awake during the day so I could function or pass the time at night because I was bored. It all felt very unfair and I let myself become victimized by it.
Over time however I have settled my nervous system and developed some great sleep habits. Now I will typically get 8 hours of sleep, sometimes without interruption and sometimes with a bathroom break. When I do wake however I get right back to a deep and sound sleep.
So what can you do to help you sleep? I’ll share with you what worked for me
- Identifying trauma: I was able to identify a trauma that I had experienced early on that had impacted my nervous system – I have a lot to say about trauma too much for this blog. Nonetheless I will say that when we experience a trauma, our nervous system is impacted – this has to do with the fight or flight response when we are afraid. Unless we resolve it BODY AND MIND, it will live on and create a deep sense of “I’m not safe” that begins to live in our unconscious mind, but shows up in our conscious ‘waking’ life.
I’ll give you an example. A brilliant teacher that I had, Lonny Jarrett, felt my pulse one day – pulse reading are one of the pillars of Chinese Medicine and is imperative to diagnosing insomnia – and asked me if I had been sexually abused as a child. I said yes and when I asked him how he knew that just from my pulse, he said that my pulse was so ‘vigilant’ that my system is constantly on guard because it doesn’t feel safe, it’s afraid of what will happen if it lets go of that vigilance and becomes vulnerable. Then, in his brilliance, he said sleep is the ultimate surrender in our daily lives and if you can’t surrender and be vulnerable because you don’t feel safe, then you are never falling into deep sleep. You have to stay alert because you never know what might happen. ALL THIS FROM FEELING MY PULSE FOR 15 SECONDS.
I had done a lot of research on how trauma is stored in the body but it was at that moment that I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that it is, and it stays there until it is resolved. Here is a great article from PsychologyToday.com on how trauma and stress to the brain cause Insomnia.
What does mediation do to help with insomnia?
- MEDITATION – Moving forward from that experience I started to get serious about meditation. I committed to 30 minutes a day at the start. That seems like a lot to some people, just do your best when you are starting out, even if it’s 5 minutes. I don’t always do 30 minutes a day anymore, but I do something everyday and I have played around with different types of meditation. Just find one that works, but do make sure that it’s not a moving meditation, there is great value in stillness and it is my belief that “moving meditations” are an excuse for people who don’t want to do the hard work of looking and detaching from their own insanity. Make your life a moving meditation and take time to be still.
The benefits of meditation are plentiful and I won’t get into all of them. What I would like to highlight though that I have been able to correlate directly to sleep is that meditation works to get you into Theta Brainwave state. Theta brainwave has all sorts of cool attributes and associations like: deep relaxation, the subconscious mind, beliefs and behaviors as well as REM sleep. And REM sleep is the sleep cycle where our body heals itself. How cool is that! So after noticing my experience with deeper sleep and meditation, and learning about the science behind it I hypothesize that meditation is practice for your brain dropping into those deeper states….the states you don’t or can’t get to when you are constantly waking from insomnia. It helps get there faster and stay there, resulting in faster sleeping times and deeper and longer sleeping states.
Here’s another great article from the Harvard Medical School on the benefits of mediation for Insomnia.
How does acupuncture aid with your Insomnia
- Acupuncture for Insomnia – Acupuncture is known to mediate the nervous system, balance hormones and increase melatonin and other mood balancing, feel good hormones. And yes OF COURSE I’m biased. This stuff rocks for insomnia and countless other ailments. And Yes I think you should come see me, but I won’t take it personally if you don’t, most acupuncturists will have experience treating insomnia. Check this post out on the benefits of acupuncture for Insomnia on the NCBI website.
- Going to sleep before 10pm – 11pm-3am are Gall Bladder and Liver time respectively in the Chinese clock. The liver plays a big role in your ability to sleep so going to bed at a regular time and by 10pm every night is one of the best things you can do for your Liver and therefore for your sleeping patterns.
- Earplugs – My little $1 miracle workers. I can’t believe how much cutting the noise out of my room at night has enhanced my sleep experience. I was a light sleeper and now I only wake up if my own body wakes me up, not anybody else’s.
- Black out Blinds – These are a MUST for proper sleep hygiene. In fact there have been links made to light exposure and cancer so even if you aren’t a tired insomniac you should consider sleeping in the pitch black.
I should mention diet and supplements. I won’t go into great detail here however for proper sleep hygiene you should make sure not to consume liquids after 7pm and not eat 2 hours prior to bedtime.
There are all sorts of supplements out there like melatonin, 5-HTP, Gaba, magnesium etc. I have tried all of them and more and my personal experience is that they work well for about a week or so and then my body gets used to them and I’m back to the same old thing. But that’s just me, if it works for you then rock on!The only things that have made a permanent dent in my insomnia are as I mentioned above: Identifying Trauma, Meditation, Acupuncture for Insomnia and proper sleep hygiene.
If you have any questions about whether or not Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine can help YOU with insomnia please feel free to email me. To see how other people have benefited from Acupuncture click here.
With Love from beautiful Kelowna, BC,