“If you are operating on less than five hours of sleep for five days in a row, you are actually functioning as if you were legally intoxicated,” says Lt. Gen. Patricia Horoho, Surgeon General, at the Association of the U.S. Army’s 2012 annual meeting in Washington, D.C.
Insufficient sleep can come in several forms – not enough hours dedicated to sleep, or poor quality sleep, even if sleeping for up to 10 hours. More and more research shows that poor sleep quality is closely linked to the development of disorders such as diabetes, obesity, depression, chronic fatigue, and heart disease.
Here are some basic steps for improving sleep
Lower your bedroom temperature
Your body temperature helps regulate your internal clock. The optimal temperature is quite cool, around 60 to 68 degrees Fahrenheit. A bedroom temperature that is too hot or too cold can cause restlessness. Treat yourself with a good comforter and add a hot water bottle placed at your feet. Having a lower core temperature will help you sleep, but cold hands and feet may cause sleeplessness, hence the hot water bottle.
Shower before sleep
Taking a warm shower before bedtime is another way to lower your core body temperature and induce sleep. New research from the UT Southwestern Medical Center found that an area of the brain known as the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN) acts as the “master clock.” When night approaches, the SCN sends out neural signals to lower your core temperature. A warm shower will warm your body temperature but once you step into your cool bedroom your temperature will drop. This makes you feel drowsy and ready for sleep. It will also help you relax after a stressful day. The water temperature should not be too hot as it may speed up your metabolism instead of slowing it down, and it should not be too cold as it may cause your body temperature to increase too much in order to compensate.
Eliminate sources of light from your bedroom
Our bodies produce melatonin at night to regulate the sleep-wake cycle. This hormone is secreted by the pineal gland located in the brain. Light, even small amounts, can cause the melatonin production to be shut down. It may be comforting to have some light in your bedroom, but consider that it can be detrimental to your sleep and consequently your health. Unless you are terrified of darkness in which case you should consult a therapist, try sleeping in a completely dark room.
Save your bedroom for the “S”s – Self-care, Sex, and Sleep
Take a look at your bedroom and see what doesn’t belong in there. If it doesn’t fall within the self-care, sex, and sleep areas then it shouldn’t be there. Avoid stressful things and bright screens that activate your brain. Imagine a night in the country, reading at the candlelight, listening to soft music, with visually enchanting and relaxing views around you. Your bedroom should be a sanctuary where you always feel ready to take care of yourself, meditate, have intimacy with your partner, and, of course, sleep.
Set aside a “worry time”
Some people are so stressed with their daily life that they can’t leave it behind at night. Set aside a “Worry time” each evening. Grab a piece of paper or your journal and write down what you “should” have done, what needs to be done “now,” and everything that is driving your mind crazy. If inclined, brainstorm ideas and make specific plans to carry out when you wake up. When your mind is completely emptied, take the list in your hands and say out loud the following: “I will get all of this done soon, but now I am peacefully going to sleep.” Let go of all your thoughts.
If you wake up at night and tend to over-think, say this: “I have decided to take care of things tomorrow morning, so I am now relaxing and sleeping.”
After you have emptied your mind with the worry list, you can now sit in your favorite chair with your spine upright, and start meditating. The benefits of meditating cannot be emphasized enough. It is one of the healthiest daily habits you can have in your life. Some people prefer morning meditation, but adding a short meditation before sleeping is better than any sleeping pill.
Use acupuncture point “An Mian”
Acupuncture has been helping people get better sleep for thousands of years. The latest research shows the effectiveness of one of the most common acupuncture points used to treat insomnia. The red acupuncture point in this picture is An Mian “peaceful sleep point.” Next time you have trouble sleeping, find this powerful point. First, find the hollow at the back of your neck, near the skull, on the outside of the trapezius muscle. Then find a point just behind the earlobe. An Mian is located halfway between those two points, along the border of the skull. Press into this point with your thumbs. While pressing, visualize your body from toe to head, gradually relaxing every muscle. Here is a video showing you exactly where to find this wonderful acupoint!
These tips alone can increase the quality of your sleep dramatically. If more help is needed, acupuncture and herbal medicine can help your body achieve a more balanced sleep and increase the overall quality of your life.
“Each night, when I go to sleep, I die. And the next morning, when I wake up, I am reborn.” – Gandhi
Damiana Corca is an Acupuncturist and Clinical Herbalist specializing in Sleep Disorders and a friend of the Yinova Center. She is passionate about helping people sleep soundly to live their most healthy and fulfilled lives. Damiana is making dreams come true one night at a time by writing and speaking about sleep in addition to treating patients at her practice in Boulder, Colorado. Visit her website here.