Beginning the day we are born, sleep is essential. Sleep is when the body repairs and restores itself; sleep improves your energy and sleep literally keeps us sane. But in this day and age with being constantly on the go, daily stress, email, texting and social media taking up so much of our time and energy, many people find it difficult to turn off at the end of the day. When you don't "turn off" (i.e. your nervous system doesn't return to a state of calm) that means that you are always "on" which adds stress to your body and mind. People who lack sleep are often irritable, where the littlest thing can set them off--stress. They often eat more because they are tired-- stress. Little things become completely overwhelming--stress. Unfortunately stress makes it hard to sleep and lack of sleep increases stress.
An Eastern perspective:
Insomnia, either trouble falling asleep or staying asleep, is caused by the Liver being unable to contain the Shen or Spirit (that which animates us). At night the Shen is supposed to go into the Liver to rest for the night. With insomnia, instead of resting, the Shen is up "walking around" which prevents us from being able to fall asleep; if we do, we wake in the middle of the night and often can't get back to sleep. This is also the reason for restless sleep but to a lesser degree. The Liver is vulnerable to stress, anger, frustration and unfulfilled desires and when the Liver goes out of balance, one of the things that can be affected is our sleep. Other signs that the Liver is imbalanced are irritability, short temper, headaches/migraines, menstrual cramps, premenstrual breast tenderness and/or excessive sighing.
So the question is, "If I'm stressed and can't sleep how do I decrease stress so I can sleep?"
1. Have a regular sleep time. Predictability is good for good sleep (and the Liver). By training your body to be tired at the same time every day, it begins to expect it and then it is easier to fall asleep. Being in bed by 10p or 10:30p is ideal so that you are asleep by 11p, when Gallbladder time begins. Each internal organ has a 2-hour period when its energy is at its peak and its nadir. Since the Gallbladder is the Yang pair to Liver's Yin it is essential to give it rest so that it doesn't further strain the Liver.
2. Shut down all electronic devices at least an hour before you go to bed. And PLEASE get them out of your bedroom. This includes TV, smartphones, ipads, computers, anything that EMF radiation. Although we are not all consciously aware of it, EMF does affect us on a cellular level and can add stress to the nervous system. This stress can impair our ability sleep and deteriorate its quality. These machines use a kind of light that is similar to sunlight in terms or how it affects our brains. When the brain is exposed to this type of light it releases chemicals that make us awake. Only when we are exposed to darkness does our brain start to make melatonin which allows us to sleep. But if we've been "staring into the sun" for too long, it takes awhile for our brain to transition and it will take awhile to fall asleep.
3. Cut out caffeine. Not reduce, but cut it out. Caffeine stresses the adrenal glands which are working overtime when you are stressed (and not sleeping). Weakening the adrenals can actually make it harder for you to stay asleep. Also, caffeine can stay in your system for up to 8 hours. That afternoon cup of tea or coffee that keeps you going will also prevent you from falling asleep many hours later. Caffeine withdrawal usually only lasts a couple of days so if you can get through a day or two of headaches (increasing your water intake can help) then you are home free.
4. Calming herbs or teas can help put you in a better space before bed. Chamomile and Valerian root are two calming herbs. Rescue Remedy by Bach Flower Essences makes Rescue Sleep which can also help. Just put a few drops under your tongue either before bed or if you wake in the middle of the night. It works like homeopathic medicine so there are no side effects or groggy feelings after. Meditation or gentle yoga or stretching can help as well. Slow deep breathing calms the nervous system to prepare you for sleep.
5. Acupuncture and/or Chinese Herbal Medicine is useful if you suffer really chronic sleep problems. A licensed acupuncturist and herbalist can prescribe the right formula for you and your specific sleep problem. There are no side effects if properly prescribed, and can be taken as a tea or pills depending on your particular needs. Unlike Western pharmaceuticals, Chinese herbal formulas are tailored to you, not just your condition and can be altered as your needs change. See a local practitioner for help.
Getting your sleep in shape will improve your ability to deal with life stresses and will reduce the overall stress that your body experiences, thus improving your life, health and longevity.