We all know how important sleep is, but why is it for those with sleeping issues, it can be one of the biggest challenges there is? Let's dive into some unique tips for falling asleep including Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and the acupressure points they massage to induce sleepiness. I'm excited to share with you what I've learned and how it has helped me.
Self-Care and Sleep: 8 Unique Tips For Better Sleep
“The worst thing in the world is to try to sleep and not to.”
— F. Scott Fitzgerald, American Author
Insomnia can feel like torture.
Professional interrogators often use sleep deprivation on prisoners as a way to break them down, making them more unable to resist physical pain and mental influence. It can also leave the prisoner with a broken down immune system, possible heart defects, cardiovascular disease, memory loss, confusion, and even hallucinations.
I'm sure most of you have never gotten to this level of insomnia, but sometimes when we're just laying there, feeling the time go by, so tired, yet so wide awake, it can really feel like torture. Not to mention the fatigue the next day and always wanting to take extra long naps, only to not sleep that night again, and the cycle continues.
Sleeping good at night is ESSENTIAL for self-care and feeling good in the day. So here are 8 things I try and incorporate into my life for better sleep
1. Limit Caffeine
I love coffee so much. And tea. And chocolate. I remember being a young teenager punk at work, drinking up to five cups of coffee a day, sometimes at 5:00 pm in between teaching gymnastics classes.
I also remember getting heart palpitations and feeling uncomfortable but not recognizing what it was. For some reason, I wouldn't have trouble sleeping at night. My old self still amazes me to this day.
Now, I understand my sensitivities to caffeine and don't abuse it. I only have one cup of coffee in the morning when I wake up. If I'm really struggling for a little pick me up at lunch time, I may have another small cup, but usually a cup of tea will suffice.
Caffeine was one thing both my TCM doctor and my western doctor told me to limit to help my sleep and reduce my anxiety. For the story of how I temporarily gave up caffeine for anxiety reasons you can read it in the future. As of now, I personally don't drink coffee after 12:00, and I don't drink tea after 3:00.
2. Control Nap Time
When my sleeping schedule was really out of whack, I felt like I had to take up to three naps a day. I would force myself to wake up in the morning, make breakfast for Jerry and myself, eat, and have to go back to bed. I felt so guilty about it. It would effect my mood tremendously.
This is also a symptom of depression, which I was currently going through and trying to tackle. Everything was off balance. But slowly, with lots of tears and effort, I tried my hardest to control my nap times. I nap at the same time every day, no more than 25 minutes. When the alarm goes off, I want to hit snooze so bad, but I feel like this hit pause series has forced me (in a good way) to work harder towards my goals of being healthy and more productive.
At around 4:30 is another time where I get fatigue and want to go to sleep, but I try to force myself to do something stimulating like clean, do a little workout, go outside and run some errands, etc all while telling myself that in this way, I will sleep better at night.
3. Sun Exposure
Sunshine is an amazing thing. Living in Asia, everyone in this culture is obsessed with staying as white as they can and avoiding the sun at all costs. They even have these fingerless gloves that go all the way up to their biceps.
In addition to slowly being influenced by the culture, I was staying indoors a lot due to work, studying, and this winter in general has just been more cloudy.
However, if we don't get enough sunlight in the day, our brain has a hard time processing what time we should be awake and what time we should be sleeping. Not to mention that tricking our brains by looking at the light on our phones when it is dark outside doesn't help the problem.
According to The US National Library of Medicine, "Several studies reported that vitamin D receptors (VDR) were expressed in brain areas that regulate the sleep–wake cycle", and "Several observational studies showed the association between vitamin D deficiency and sleep disorders. A cross-sectional study reported that vitamin D deficiency correlated with poorer sleep quality." There is still a lot of research taking place on the link between vitamin D and sleep, but it is recommended to get at least 15 minutes of good sun exposure every day.
I love exercise so much. It is one of the key factors that helps me manage my anxiety. At night when I try to sleep I often experience Restless Leg Syndrome which is one of the most annoying things in the world. If I have gone for my run and stretched that day, my restless leg symptoms are decreased greatly, often not even showing up at all.
One thing that doctors recommend is to not exercise too late in the day, preferably before dinner time. This is something I haven't mastered yet, because ever since I was a child gymnast, I have a habit of working out in the evening.
Exercising after lunch is something I would love to slowly incorporate into my life. If we exercise too late in the day, it's easy to be "wound up" and may take quite a long time to wind down. But for now I'm like "hey, at least I'm getting the workout in, I'm doing the best I can."
5. Reduce Stress Triggers
During the day I try to predict what would stress me out when I'm trying to fall asleep. When I wake up in the morning, I hit pause while I have coffee in my Mora mug, and I write down a list of things that I need to get done. I write things down like bills, talking to family, chores, work, and just get it done.
Sometimes it's the stupidest thing that is stressing me out at night. I tend to put off something as simple as answering an email or a text, forget about it, and then at night remember and start to fret about it. Is anyone here with me?
I have found that writing it down and tackling it right away is the best way to avoid that kind of stress thinking while in bed.
6. Have a Nighttime Routine
I feel like my nighttime routine is really when I can get in some "me time". I love evenings SO MUCH. Having a nice routine has helped my brain and body relax and get into a sleepy mode.
First, I shower every night before bed, making sure I use essential oils like lavender, tea tree and bergamont. I use the steam in my shower as a diffuser and as I'm inhaling the scents I just feel so pampered and relaxed.
Next I make sure and take care of my skin, properly removing my makeup, exfoliating every three days, and applying a facemask whenever I feel I need one. I apply a toner, an ampoule, eye cream, serum and moisturizer. Call me high maintainance, but I don't care. It helps me relax and feel amazing.
Then I go sit on my couch, read a little something from my current book, and then also read some of the bible. This is a perfect time for me to drink some relaxing tea. If you like loose leaf tea, I would recommend our ceramic tea mugs found here. The next steps of my nightly routine are as follows.
7. Acupressure Points
Massaging acupressure points does take a little effort, but if you have the time, and if you struggle with falling asleep, I definitely recommend you try this at home. The next pictures below are each acupressure point and it's function.
Shenmen: Pressing this point for 5 seconds and then alternating to the other hand for 5 seconds, repeating continuously for 5 minutes is claimed to calm and soothe the nerves. I myself start to feel better after just one time.
Neiguan: Pressing this accupressure point every five seconds and rotating hands back and forth for five minutes will help relieve pain, palpitations, chest tightness and insomnia.
Taichong: This acupressure point is very small, so you will need to use a closed pen tip to get to it. Press down and hold the point for three seconds, then tap the point seven times. Repeat on the other foot, and alternate for about 5 minutes. This is claimed to help calm down a restless mood.
Baihui: This one is my favorite! Press this point with your thumb knuckle ten times to soothe nerves and calm emotions. It also hurts a tiny bit but afterwards it feels amazing.
Yongquan: This point is a little hard to get to so it works best if you use something hard like the the point of the handle part of a hairbrush, but when I do this before bed, my feet feel so relaxed and don't feel the need to move around when I'm trying to fall asleep. This point aids in sleep quality, heart palpitations, and headaches.
Out of everything I tried, I think this PMR exercise worked the best. Short for Progressive Muscle Relaxation, it does just that. I have heard of it before, my doctor had even recommended it to me, but I only started trying it this week and boy does it help me relax my muscles, get comfortable, and sit still.
Due to my anxiety, I often have a hard time finding a comfortable position. If you're anything like me, you definately should try PMR and see if it helps. You can check out how I do PMR near the end of my youtube video here, but basically you pick one body part at a time, starting with your face, then your neck and shoulders, then arms, hands, stomach and so on.
First you flex and scrunch that muscle group, hold for 5 to 10 seconds while breathing in deeply, then on the exhale releasing the muscles and relaxing them. I especially love to do this to my neck and shoulders, because they always feel so tight and uncomfortable when I sleep.
Using all of the above tactics, along with prayer and the support of my husband Jerry, I've been able to slowly conquer my sleep problems. Of course I still have bad nights and of course I still may get tired during the day. But just trying my best and working on this form of self care has helped me accomplish more in my day and be a more positive person. Have you tried any of the above tactics? Let me know in the comments below!
I love you all.
Written by Alix Tieben