Sleep problems can manifest in difficulties getting to sleep, waking early, waking frequently in the night or not waking feeling refreshed. In February 2013 my professional body campaigned to raise awareness about the benefits of acupuncture for sleep. Singer Toyah Willcox supported our campaign and tells her story. For those who can’t get acupuncture, I’ve put together useful tips known to promote better sleep.
What happens when we sleep?
Sleep is very much an active time for the body; the brain carries out its ‘housekeeping’ or repairing of the body when our digestion and muscles are not diverting our energy. So for people experiencing sleep problems this takes both a physical and mental toll.
How does acupuncture work?
Traditional acupuncture is known to be enormously beneficial for helping to correct sleep problems. It works by calming the nervous system and also increasing endorphin production. These are our ‘feel-good’ chemicals (neurotransmitters) and are chemically very much like morphine.
Most people who have experienced acupuncture find it very relaxing, many clients sleep during the treatment and most will have felt very relaxed afterwards. The feedback “I had the most amazing sleep after my session” is not uncommon. Some acupuncture points are particularly known for their calming effects and after activation, one client sleepily said “I feel as if I’m going under a sedative – I just can’t keep my eyes open”. These effects can last for hours or days and help you re-establish your sleep routine.
Supporting our campaign is singer Toyah Willcox who, like many others, feels that acupuncture has made a huge impact to her life. “Having suffered with chronic insomnia since I was 14, I had to learn to make it work for my lifestyle”, says Toyah. “However, I realised I needed to do something about it when I was made aware of the detriment it has on your health and immune system. I won’t take sleeping pills and it’s actually better not to medicate chronic sufferers of insomnia anyway. I now have regular traditional acupuncture to help let my body heal itself. When I’m having a treatment I fall into a deep sleep straight away, which gives me immediate relief.”
Listen to her talk about her experience:
Better Sleep Checklist
For those of you not able to have acupuncture, I’ve put together some general advice on how to improve your sleep.
Food and drink
Broadly speaking, if you keep active, you are more likely to sleep better and of course, there are numerous other health benefits.
It’s best not to do too much in the evening. Being active will generally help you to sleep but, if you exercise late in the evening, you may find it difficult to settle.
Relaxation for Sleep
Relaxation is not the same as sleep. We are not conscious or in control of our brain and body while we are asleep. When we are in a true state of relaxation, the muscles are relaxed and the mind is still.
Relaxation is a skill that can be learnt and used to help you feel less stressed and in control. Many people find relaxation techniques help them to fall asleep. They also help during periods of wakefulness and can help you fall back to sleep again.
Breathing for relaxation – gentle exercise with controlled breathing. Breathing slower helps us relax. Try Yoga (particularly Nidra Yoga), Tai Chi and Qi Gong.
Meditation or hypnotherapy – A short daily meditation session can make all the difference to a good night’s sleep. By teaching the mind to disconnect from all the cares and despairs of the day, you may be able take that final step towards stilling the mind and drifting into a deep sleep. Hypnotherapy or guided meditation CDs are popular and help quieten the mind before sleep.
Create the right sleeping environment
Many poor sleepers are unaware of how their environment affects the quality of their sleep: