"Sleep is the golden chain that ties health and our bodies together." - Thomas Dekker
A good night's sleep… something that we all love, but so many of us living in the 21st century struggle to obtain. We live in a world of excitement, constant stimulation, and the romanticization of unhealthy habits and lifestyles. These things can make, what should be something as simple as sleep, extremely difficult to obtain.
Sleep can affect so many aspects of our life including one’s mood, focus, appetite, mental health, bodily functions, and much more. Through my journey, I have experienced its effects heavily on my mental health. It plays a big role in continued feelings of anxiety, depression, and anger in a person. A lot of times, this is a large factor in healing when it comes to mental health and behavioral disorders.
In natural medicine, difficulties with sleeping can be presented through imbalances in our body or just in the way our constitutions are portrayed, making these struggles different from person to person. Sleeping patterns can also be a big insight into the imbalances we are experiencing, making them a powerful tool for diagnosis.
Something we constantly reference, especially when looking into sleeping patterns, is the TCM Organ/Body Clock. This can help us understand what imbalances or health issues our bodies may be running into as we are noticing our bodies struggle with consistent sleeping rhythms during the night. These imbalances may present themselves as waking up during a certain hour of the night, difficulty falling asleep, vivid and disruptive dreaming, or bodily interruptions such as hunger, types of pain or discomfort, or needing to go to the bathroom. This can be an insight into why these disruptions are happening, and how to properly combat them.
It is fairly common for people to have their sleep affected by their health issues when it is related to the heart, gallbladder, liver, lungs, and large intestine. Many constitutional imbalances can affect these areas. When having issues with waking up or being restless during “liver/gallbladder o’clock” it can often be helped with proper digestive support throughout the day and/or releasing feelings of frustration and anger in healthy ways. Imbalances in the heart can affect the body when it is attempting to wind down for bed. Often this can be helped by taking herbs that are soothing to the heart such as linden, passionflower, hawthorn, and many others. Aaron often finds himself waking up during the “lung o’clock” time period. This one is a bit trickier to combat than the others. “My best solution has been to work on my constitutional metal (Lung and Large Intestine) imbalances. Metal is a complicated element and therefore is not a "one herb fits all" kind of solution, the best method for resolving this problem has been to work on my body as a whole.”
Just as sleep can affect so many aspects of our lives, so many aspects of our lives can also affect sleep. This relates to a lot of the habits we create that influence our sleep patterns. This is why healing this part of our lives often is different from person to person. So how do I know what will work for me? Here are some personal examples and experiences that might help.
My struggles with sleep often lie in the act of winding down for bed. I often find that I am the most driven to complete tasks or create new ideas starting around 11:00pm, the beginning of “Gallbladder o’clock” as we like to call it. This time period is ruled by the wood element in Chinese medicine, which rules over a lot of the energy and drive to create, accomplish, and plan. I often get swept up in a cloud of wonderful thoughts and ideas. Younger me would take this as an opportunity to stay up into the wee hours of the morning rearranging a room or finishing a project. After realizing how much this has been affecting my health, I’ve been doing the best I can to create new habits for a healthier sleeping pattern.
Some of the practices I have found work in my favor are doing my best to be in bed or winding down before 10:00pm (some nights, this can be difficult), burning a relaxing lavender incense blend while playing a track of “brown noise” off of my phone, and sipping on a cup of marjoram or wood betony tea. I find a lot of favor in my marjoram tea, as it also helps my muscles to release the pent-up tension I have collected throughout the day.
Lisa also finds difficulty in her sleep schedule when it comes to winding down for the night. “I have a super-active and creative brain, so I have to build in time to detach myself from solving problems and dreaming up big ideas, which can keep me awake.”
One of the practices Lisa has found helpful is turning off social media and other videos after 9:00pm. “I love to read and use 9pm as a time to reset my brain, with my current selection. I often find myself dozing off (hitting myself in the face with my book or kindle) before 10pm. If this doesn't happen by 10pm, I may be up until the wee hours.” During her downtime, she also enjoys sipping on an herbal tea blend of chamomile, oat, and rose to help with the process of winding her mind down.
Paige struggles with her sleep patterns in a different way than most. “I struggle with sleep in the opposite sense, my body wants too much (common in hypothyroidism). If I allow myself, I can half wake up in the morning, roll over, and fall right back to sleep. Getting too much sleep leaves people groggy, like they didn't get enough. I have committed to myself, if I half wake up around 6, to stay up. It will slowly become easier and easier until oversleeping is no longer an issue.”
To help her body get into a rhythm for sleep each night, Paige incorporates a simple self-guided meditation. “I try to identify muscle tension in my body and focus on relaxing those muscles. Relaxing neck and spinal muscles is particularly calming to a stressed or overactive mind. After a few short minutes, I'm asleep. Making this part of a nightly routine trains your body and mind that it's time to relax rather than stress about your day.”
When she still cannot quiet her mind enough to sleep, she finds ways to release her anxious energy. “I will often focus my nervous energy into the action of rubbing/massaging my husband's back or chest. After a few minutes, all of my energy is out and I can fall asleep within seconds. It's like rubbing a restless child to help calm them down, but in reverse.”
Aaron finds difficulty with his sleeping patterns through battling a restless mind as well as waking up at different hours through the night. He repeatedly finds himself waking up during “liver o’clock” (in between 1-3am) and “lung o’clock” (in between 3-5am). This may interrupt the body’s rhythm of sleep, which can make it difficult for one to fall back into a solid rhythm for the rest of the night.
To calm his restless mind before bed, Aaron will often include a dose of Wood Betony or Rose glycerite to soothe his mind and body, as he has found these herbs work particularly well for him. When still struggling to fall asleep, calming physical touch can be helpful as well. “Having my back or chest rubbed by my wife, like a restless child would receive by their parents.” is something he’s found helpful.
Aaron has found that waking up during “liver o’clock” time period relates back to his digestion and maintenance of the wood element. Offering proper digestive support and releasing feelings of anger and frustration, as we mentioned above, is something he finds helpful. When he finds himself waking up during this hour he will often take a dose of our Happy Tummy formula to settle back into sleep. As we mentioned before, “lung o’clock” can be more difficult to combat. Although Aaron has found a helpful habit when waking up at this time of night. “Relaxing my entire body, specifically the lungs, and allowing my energy to flow freely throughout my spine and later flowing into my entire body. Once accomplished, there will be an adjustment in my thoracic spine (over my heart/lung area, roughly T5) and I will fall asleep shortly after.”
Molly tends to find struggle with her sleep cycle when the moon is nearly at its peak. The full moon can be very disruptive to many people’s sleep cycles and is often an overlooked factor. “To quiet the energy of the moon, I take Passionflower.”
To encourage her body’s natural sleep rhythm, Molly likes to set aside time for her body to wind down and get back into a proper flow. “I shut down any devices 30 mins before bed, turn on green lighting, and meditate or practice bedtime yoga. This helps relax me and fall into a natural sleep.”
“We need good quality, restful sleep to feel our best and maintain health; to renew and restore physically as well as psychologically.” - Howard Vanes
Our relationship with sleep plays a huge role in our lives and can be a key factor in our health. Simply adding a new habit or two into your routine and keeping with it can be absolutely life-changing. What are some habits you have for a restful night?