Insomnia comes in many forms - difficulty falling asleep, difficulty staying asleep, waking early in morning, and worst-case scenario, not sleeping at all.
The common Western medical approach is to prescribe sleep meds (Ambien, Sonata and Lunesta). Unfortunately, these medications only increase total sleep time by 28 minutes compared to a placebo, according to a 2005 NIH study. They may be habit-forming, cause next-day drowsiness, and memory loss. They also may mask other underlying causes of sleeplessness like depression, anxiety, or a hormonal imbalance - in addition to poor sleep hygiene.
No matter what type of insomnia you are experiencing, acupuncture can help. However, it's still important to be mindful of your sleep hygiene - your routine leading up to bed time.
Here are a few simple ways you can improve your sleep hygiene and get a little closer to a deeper, more restful night's sleep.
Get up and go to bed the same time every day - Even on weekends!
When your sleep cycle has a regular rhythm, you will feel better and your sleep will become more consistent.
Stay away from caffeine, nicotine and alcohol at least 4-6 hours before bed.
Caffeine has a half-life (how long it takes for half of an ingested dose to wear off) of almost 6 hours. So, refrain from the afternoon double latte. Alcohol may seem to help you sleep in the beginning as it slows brain activity, but you will end end up having fragmented sleep - due to dehydration and fluctuations in blood sugar levels.
Refrain from exercise at least 4 hours before bedtime.
Regular exercise is recommended to help you sleep well, but the timing of the workout is important. Exercising in the morning or early afternoon will not interfere with sleep. Vigorous exercise too close to bedtime will increase your cortisol levels and potentially throw-off your sleep.
If you're gonna eat, keep it light.
If your stomach is too empty, that can interfere with sleep. However, if you eat a heavy meal before bedtime, that can interfere as well. Fats and proteins are more sedating than energizing sugars and carbs.
Develop a sleep ritual.
It is important to give your body cues that it is time to slow down and sleep. Listen to relaxing music, read something soothing for 15 minutes, have a cup of caffeine free tea, do relaxation exercises or gentle yoga stretches.
Step away from the light.
Studies have shown that even the tiniest light across the room can disrupt your melatonin (sleep hormone) levels, effecting the quality of your sleep. Ideally you want to start moving away from your TV and computer at least two hours before your head hits the pillow. For those of us who are on the computer late at night, download f.lux. This program will automatically adjust the color of your screen from blue to red, so that it doesn't wreak havoc on your melatonin production. You can also try blackout curtains or wearing an eye mask.
Focus on your feet.
Daytime is considered to be Yang and is associated with the upper body. While evening is associated with Yin and the lower body. Put the attention where it's suppose to be at night by massaging or put lotion on your feet. Try rubbing the soles of your feet, vigorously (counting to 50 for each foot), creating a nice warmth on the bottoms of the feet. This is great for the "monkey mind" and can help you get out of your head. You can do this acupressure routine in the dark, right before laying down. Watch the video.
Only use your bed for sleeping and sex.
Your bed is not your desk. Refrain from using your bed to watch TV, pay bills, or do work. This way, when you go to bed, your body knows it is time to sleep or get frisky.
Make sure your bed and bedroom are quiet and comfortable.
A hot room can be uncomfortable. A cooler room along with enough blankets to stay warm is recommended. If noise bothers you, wear earplugs or get a white noise machine.
Sleep only when you're sleepy.
This reduces the time you are awake in bed, stressing about not being able to fall asleep. If you can't fall asleep within 20 minutes, get up and do something simple until you feel sleepy. Try a little deep breathing or mindfulness practice, quietly in the dark. Don't watch TV or get onto the computer. Remember, artificial light at night gives cues to your brain that it is time to wake up.
Use sunlight to set your biological clock.
As soon as you get up in the morning, go outside and turn your face to the sun for 15 minutes. Sunlight helps to regulate your natural sleep/wake hormone cycle. This is also a good thing to do if you've been travelling and are feeling jet-lagged.
In addition to good sleep hygiene, acupuncture and herbs can be very effective at dealing with all types of insomnia and sleep disturbances. With a skilled practitioner you can get to the root of your insomnia. Instead of only addressing the symptoms.