We’ve talked to some of our practicioners who help patients sleep better. Read how Traditional Chinese medicine, hypnotherapy, craniosacral therapy and psychotherapy plus breathwork help with sleep disorders.
1. Why is sleep important for one’s health and wellbeing?
Clara Chan (TCM doctor): From the Chinese Medicine point of view, the sleep and wake cycle is a natural process for transformation of yin and yang to provide vital energy for our physical body and mind. Sleep is the result of the yang energy descending back to the core while waking is the result of yang energy rise again. During sleep, the depleted yang energy is nourished by yin and revitalized to be used again upon awakening. TCM also believes that vital energy (qi) is more prevalent in different meridians at different times according to a 24 hours cycle. If the sleep-wake cycle is disrupted or sleeping time is sub-optimal, the vital energy (qi) will not be revitalized properly, and unable to properly support the daily activities of our physical body and mind.
Aldo Privileggi (Hypnotherapist) : Sleep has two primary important roles in our life, one is physical and one is mental soothing. Firstly, sleep helps our body to be in a rested, relaxed state so that our subconscious mind can rejuvenate and heal our body during sleep time. Secondly, sleep helps to purge and cleanse the mind of the mental activities during the day. If we don’t sleep enough we get a build- up of junk thoughts and too much thinking which greatly inhibits our sleep. In fact, sleep is so important to the body/mind that a human can survive longer without food than without sleep.
Michell See (Craniosacral therapist) : Sleep is a huge part of our auto nervous system, in particular our parasympathetic system. When our parasympathtic system is functioning well, sleep comes naturally and all the rejuvenating, repairing and healing works happen while we’re asleep. That’s why we have a saying, “sleep is the best medicine.”
Astrid Merkt (Psychotherapist) : Sleep is when our body processes all the information of the day and sorts it all out. It stores the important information in memory, and discards the “noise”. Physiologically, this is when the janitors and quality controllers get busy to work. Mentally, apart from processing our experiences and memories, the glial cells in our brain also get some “pruning.” In order for a tree to keep bearing fruit, one must prune the dead or no fruitful branches in order for the healthy and fruitful ones to grow. Our brain does just that, if gets rid of what is no longer needed to make space for the brain real estate we are using the most. Thus sleeping is essential to set us up ready for the next day with healthy and repaired cells, and the essential information we need to keep building and learning on.
2. What are your tips to improve sleep quality?
Clara Chan (TCM doctor): The best approach to improve the sleep quality is to maintain a consistent sleep – wake cycle. Humans, like most living organisms, have biological rhythms, which are controlled by a biological (circadian) clock and work on a daily time scale. These affect body temperature, alertness, appetite, hormone secretion etc. as well as sleep timing. Although we may not be able to sleep when the sun goes down and wake up when the sun rise, going to bed and waking up at a consistent time will still help to minimize sleep disturbance and improve the total sleeping quality. The best time to go to bed is suggested to be around 11:00pm (when the qi is prevalent in the liver meridian) and waking up at 6:00 – 7:00am. For people that experience difficulties to fall asleep, the best strategy is to create a sleep enhancing mood and environment. As per our clinical experience, the following are some of the most effective measures:
-stop using computer or other screen for reading at least 1 hour prior to go to bed
-set the room in total darkness or use eye mask
-listen to calming music or sleep enhancing music of a particular frequency (like 528hz)
-aromatherapy: use oil diffusers to emit vapour of calming, stress releasing essential oils like Lavender, Vanilla or Geranium
-drink a cup of herbal tea 1 hour prior to sleep, best choices include chamomile, lavender and lemon balm
-soak the feet in warm water (or with calming essential oil) for 10-15 mins prior to going to bed.
Aldo Privileggi (Hypnotherapist) : No stimulants before sleep, this includes coffee, aggressive movies etc. A little bit of exercise each day will also help you sleep better. Also, being in direct sunlight for 20 minutes per day helps one sleep better because it produces melatonin, which is the brain chemical that creates sleepiness
Michell See (Craniosacral therapist) : I’m sure people have already heard a lot about meditation, yoga, healthy diet and so on to help improving sleep quality and I am a big believer in maintaining a healthy lifestyle. Apart from that, I personally practice the wise words of poet Ralph Waldo Emerson “Finish each day and be done with it. You have done what you could. Some blunders and absurdities no doubt crept in; forget them as soon as you can. Tomorrow is a new day. You shall begin it serenely and with too high a spirit to be encumbered with your old nonsense.”
Astrid Merkt (Psychotherapist) : A sleep evening routine enables us to set our brain waves to a state of rest, and as we go through the routine, we can process and put aside what can be brought up as soon as our head hits the pillow.
– journalling – take a moment to focus on things that you are thankful for in the day, and the successes you had. I recommend a list of 3 on each one. Things shifts your thoughts into a state of gratitude. And calms the mind as you bring awareness to the positive aspects of your day (the little celebrations)
– take 10-30 minutes to mediate. This helps ground and calm you mentally and physiologically. Following a guided yoga nidra mediation allows you to relax the entire body and redirects the busy mind by bringing awareness to relaxing each part of your limbs.
– finally, breathwork is magic. Breath is the gateway to control your emotions and physiology. With breath, I bring a coherence to my heart rate, and activate the relaxation response in my nervous system. A 4 inhale through nose-7 hold-8 exhale blowing out through mouth. If your mind is still racing, humming out the noise is one of the best ways to bring ease to the monkey brain. The humming bee breath is shown in my youtube video (insert link)
3. How does your treatment help with sleep disorders?
Clara Chan (TCM doctor): When all of the above measures don’t work, you may need further treatment from a professional to correct the root cause of the sleeping disorders. From the Chinese Medicine point of view, normal sleep is the result of the harmony of yin and yang in the body; yang governs awakening, yin governs sleeping. Our 1st approach will be to rebalance the yin and yang energy of the patient. The most common regiments are acupuncture, cupping, scrapping and light head massage. For example, when a patient who experience sleep disturbance after a long- haul flight, we will recommend cupping and acupuncture to rebalance and reset the biological clock.
For chronic sleeping disorder, the causes may be more complex. Most of the time, it will involve mood disturbances and depletion or disruption of qi in one or more visceral systems. The most commonly weakened or imbalance systems are heart, kidney and the spleen (digestive) system. We will recommend to use herbal medicine to enhance the function and energy of the depleted systems while continue with the rebalancing of yin and yang through acupuncture.
Aldo Privileggi (Hypnotherapist) : I find that most sleep disorders are due to an overactive mind and/or emotional upsets. As a professional hypnotherapist for more than 10 years, I have been helping 3-5 insomnia patients per week with sleep disorder and i have been having very positive results with my patients using hypnotherapy treatments. Hypnotherapy addresses both the body and mind aspect simultaneously and reprograms the subconscious mind habit patterns bringing them back to the original natural default sleep rhythms this seems to work favourably for improve sleep.
Michell See (Craniosacral therapist) : Craniosacral Therapy is very effective in regulating the auto- nervous system. Our modern life and technology have shaped us to be available and be on the go for 24 hours ‘round the clock. We are checking our work emails, stock market reports and social media day and night. We think we’re in control but in fact our body is so stressed and overwhelmed as it stays in the fight or flight mode and alert even when we feel tired and want to go to sleep undisturbed. Craniosacral Therapy works on the cranial nerves, essentially the vagus nerves to help bringing natural equilibrium to our sympathetic and parasympathetic systems. Once these two systems can work together in harmony, our body can switch from fully engaged to totally shut down at our own choice.
Astrid Merkt (Psychotherapist) : Many times we do not have efficient sleep or enough sleep because our minds are focused on the past or the future. We wake up stressed and unrested. My approach of bringing breathwork, visualizations, and cognitive behavioural therapy helps you to gain better control of being able to turn “off” and “on”. When you are prepared with mental resilience to handle stress better and process difficult situations and relationships more efficiently, when the time comes to rest, you are able to unwind and sleep. I look at your breath patterns that are deeply rooted with old learned coping mechanisms and behaviors to shift your physiological response to stress. I also empower you to start shifting your perceptions and thought patterns deeply engrained internally to develop a better interaction with your environment with self-awareness. When you become a master of being aware and listening to your body and mind, you are able to navigate life situations from the drivers’ seat. I also look at your life holistically to assess how what you eat, the people you surround yourself with, the hobbies you participate in, and your life schedule impacts your ability to allocate a proper sleep routine and sleep time.