Tossing and turning, staring at the clock, and getting up to get a glass of water are all telltale signs of struggling to get to sleep. Not having a good sleep schedule or sleeping routine can really affect how you sleep each night. With National Sleep Week just a few weeks away, it is important to highlight ways to make healthy sleeping accessible consistently and easily.
Create a bedtime ritual
Setting aside time at night to get ready for bed will help put you in the right mindset for getting the best sleep. Creating a routine of relaxing activities helps your brain separate your day from your night, helps you get comfortable with making a consistent schedule, and reminds you to put you and your health first. Taking a shower, doing your nighttime skincare routine, reading or journaling, are just a few things you can do to help you wind down and prepare for sleep.
Being persistent with your sleep schedule will be vital to getting consistently restful sleep. Comparing how much sleep you should be getting to when you should be going to bed can be a math game that just leads to sleep anxiety. Utilizing tools like a bedtime calculator to help determine when to go to sleep can help you figure out the logistics without the stress.
Reduce screen time at night
Utilizing smartphones and watching television before bed affects the body’s circadian rhythm, also known as the body’s internal processes that regulate the sleep-wake cycle. The screens we use throughout the day emit blue light, which is a level of light that impacts your eyes and your sleep. When we use our devices at night, blue light hinders the body’s ability to produce melatonin, which aids in helping the body and brain fall asleep.
The best way to reduce the effects of blue light at night is to stop using screens at least an hour and a half before bedtime. This will give your body time to prepare for falling asleep easily. This is where you can read a book, write in a journal, even meditate in a screen-free environment. When you cannot avoid your phone or other devices in the hours before bed, buying anti blue light glasses can help mitigate the effects your screens have on your body’s circadian rhythm. Wearing these glasses along with putting your phone on “night mode” can limit the impact blue light has on your body.
Schedule your day wisely
How you spend your day affects how you will sleep at night. What you eat and what you do impacts how soundly you sleep. In regards to your diet, drinking alcohol or caffeine before bed could negatively impact how well you rest. Caffeine is a stimulant and will make it harder for you to fall asleep in the first place, whereas alcohol is a depressant and will affect your sleep cycle once you are already asleep.
Choosing when to exercise is also important to your sleep cycle. Make sure to schedule your workout at least 3 hours before your bedtime, as vigorous exercise stimulates your nervous system and increases your heart rate, making it difficult to fall asleep soundly afterward. Overall, creating a daily routine will be beneficial to your nightly routine and your overall wellness.
Design a good sleeping environment
Creating a bedroom that is a relaxing oasis will be a major help to your sleeping habits. The temperature of the room, the color, and the overall style of the room are all important to making you feel comfortable and relaxed in your space. Investing in accessories to help with sleep will also be key to making this bedroom the best sleeping room. Replacing your normal curtains with blackout curtains will limit the amount of light coming into the room when you are trying to sleep. You may also consider buying a sound machine to play white noise as you are falling asleep if you are a light sleeper.
When making this oasis, it is vital to make this room a room for sleeping. If you begin to work, lounge, or even eat your meals in your bedroom, the way your brain associates your bedroom with sleep will change drastically. You want your bed to signal to your brain that you are ready for sleep, so keep your work and eating to the common rooms of your home to ensure the sanctuary of your bedroom.
Taking the time to create a sleeping schedule and nightly routine will help foster healthy sleeping habits for a lifetime. Making your health and sleep a priority will ensure the longevity of the routines you create. So set your schedule, be mindful of screen time, and enjoy a good night's sleep!
Winter is kidney season! Kidneys are, in many ways, the alpha and omega of Chinese medicine organ theory, as they manage development and decline and therefore both life and death. They are also considered the root source of our energy. Essence, or jing qi, is the energy we receive at conception (also called prenatal qi). The kidneys are like a battery that is not rechargeable. Throughout our lives we slowly deplete this reserve. How fast it gets depleted depends on our lifestyle, environment etc.
Rechargeable energy (postnatal qi) comes from the food we eat and the air we breathe. It is vital to supply the body with sufficient postnatal qi so as to not deplete our reserve essence that is needed for proper kidney function. According to TCM, kidneys guide growth and development, and support the health of our brains, bones, bladder, ears and reproductive system. They also govern our low back and knees.
Signs and symptoms of kidney deficiency or depletion include:
Winter is the time to be very mindful of our kidneys as it is when our energy can be most easily depleted. Winter is the ultimate yin time, and calls for rest, reflection, conservation, and storage. Days are shorter while nights are longer. This is nature telling us to get more sleep. Your body responds to less sunlight by producing more melatonin in the winter, the hormone that helps us rest. If we do not adjust to the season, we can easily get burnt out. Consider your adrenal health when thinking about avoiding burnout, as those little glands that sit on top of your kidneys are, in part, responsible for what TCM considers kidney qi. The cold of winter presents an additional challenge too, as the adrenal glands, together with your kidneys have to work extra hard in helping to regulate body temperature.
The bottom line when it comes to kidney health in winter is to recognize the need for rest (and don’t just disguise it with stimulants like coffee!). Extreme exercise and activity is contraindicated. That being said, with the cold of winter slowing things down to a near halt, gentle exercise like yoga, stretching, tai chi, and qi gong are perfect movement therapies to prevent winter stagnation.
Don’t be afraid to get some fresh air and sunlight when possible too! The morning is the ideal time to get out and go for a walk when winter weather permits. Dress appropriately but soak up as much Vitamin D as you can . It is essential for immunity, mood, bone health etc. And if you are looking to slim down, take note that exercising in cold weather actually helps to transform white fat (belly and thigh fat) into calorie burning brown fat.
If you can’t get outside in the morning start your day with this simple qi gong exercise: (you can gently awaken your qi with a stretch session first)
Knocking on the Door of Life:
~with feet hip length apart and knees slightly bent
~slowly swing torso left to right, letting the head follow
~let arms/ hands percuss the front lower abdomen and lower back as you let the natural momentum take over
~can finish with a stimulating rub on the low back to send some love into those kidneys.
Let your acupuncturist give your kidneys some love this winter too! With treatments to support kidney function and preserve essence, your acupuncturist can help you relax into the specific balance you need to thrive in the colder months.
This Valentine’s day, whether you celebrate romantic love with a partner, enjoy the love of family and friends, or simply go on with life, marking another day on the calendar, it can be a chance to at least take a moment and honor one of the most important relationships in our lives. In Chinese Medicine philosophy, the relationship at the core of our existence that helps to give our lives meaning, joy, and power is the sacred harmony between our heart and our kidneys.
Valentine’s day lands right smack in the dead of winter, while we are deep in kidney time. Winter's focus is on the kidneys which represent the water element, so it is a great opportunity to remember it’s balancing organ, the heart, which corresponds with fire. The relationship between water and fire in the body influences much more than just aspects of our physical health. It actually determines how we engage our purpose in life, how we connect what we love with what we do.
In terms of physical health, this balance between the heart and the kidney function in the body is required to regulate heart rhythm, sleep cycles, water metabolism, temperature, and mental and physical stability. The heart, located in the upper (yang) part of the body, must descend it’s yang qi (fire) to warm the kidney yin and prevent cold stagnation. The kidneys, located in the lower (yin) part of the body, must ascend their yin qi (water) to prevent the heart fire from becoming overactive. If there is a miscommunication that leads to disharmony in this relationship we can see issues of hyperactive heart fire such as palpitations, anxiety, insomnia, even mania. If an overactive heart fire dries up the kidney yin, we can have issues like dizziness, tinnitus, weak back and knees. Not enough fire to warm the kidneys can lead to cold limbs, fatigue and edema. The heart and kidneys share a special relationship in Western medicine as well, as they rely on each other for proper circulation, water and waste metabolism, and blood pressure. Disorders of one organ can lead to issues in the other, which is why doctors often say ‘what’s good for your heart is good for your kidneys’ and vice-versa.
A more profound analysis of this relationship has to do with the spiritual energy held in these organs according to TCM. Our heart is the home of our Shen, our heart-mind, the aspect of spirit associated with our consciousness, our desires, insight and passion. Kidneys house the Zhi, the aspect of our spirit associated with our willpower. This is what gives us our ‘umph’ to face challenges and keep going, our self-discipline, our drive. Together these motivations, our desire coupled with our drive, empower us to carry out our soul’s life plan.
This Valentine’s day, wake up and stretch, rub your lower back to charge up your kidneys and activate your willpower. Breathe deep, adjust your posture and stick out your chest to let your heart lead the way. Feel the connection between these 2 organ systems in the body, letting your will empower your passions. This internal harmony can fill your life with love on Valentine’s day and everyday.
Roses and chocolates are great on Valentine’s Day, but why not also get some acupuncture to help support your heart-kidney connection? You’ll leave feeling balanced at your core and in love with life!
We’ve probably all heard motherly advice at some point reminding us to bundle up in cold weather so we don’t “catch a cold”, or hear grandpa accurately predict a storm when his hip starts aching. Or how about getting a case of the winter weather blues? Even in the western world we recognize a relationship with nature in terms of environmental conditions. Changes in temperature, sunlight, barometric pressure, and humidity all play a role in this relationship.
When it comes to the weather and our health, many in the west automatically think of how season changes and extreme weather can aggravate symptoms of asthma and allergies, but weather-related health concerns go far beyond seasonal allergies and asthma. Changes in barometric pressure can affect joints (like Grandpa’s hip), and cause headaches.
Headaches can also be caused by heat and dehydration, so summer adventurers beware (bring lots of water!). High humidity can intensify heat too as it limits our ability to cool down through sweating, potentially leading to hyperthermia and heat stroke.
Cold weather can tighten muscles causing body pain. It also constricts blood vessels leading to an increase in blood pressure and increased risks of heart attack and stroke. While blood pressure tends to be higher in the winter, any temperature extreme, hot or cold, can affect heart function.
Sunlight is another aspect of weather that has a lot of influence over our health. Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is often associated with the colder, darker fall and winter months. The reduced sunlight alters our melatonin and serotonin levels, potentially leaving us with disruptions in sleep and mood.
Ancient Chinese Medical texts describe a similar relationship between humans and their environment, though the wording and understanding of the nature of the environmental conditions differs slightly.
In TCM there are 5 main “climates” or environmental influences related to our health.
These are: COLD, HEAT, WIND, DAMP, DRYNESS
(summerheat, associated with late summer, is actually considered a 6th climate)
These potential causes of illness described in Chinese Medicine sound like weather patterns themselves and are considered external influences in origin but can penetrate to have effects on the body and create what we can think of as internal weather. We can also be more prone to their influence based on our constitution and lifestyle, (and can even manifest these ‘climates’ internally without external exposure).
Any extremes with these various conditions can allow pathogens to enter, if our self-protective energy and efforts are weak, and leave us vulnerable to infections, such as with colds/flus.
They can also go deeper in the body to directly affect the organs, with symptoms presenting throughout the body in the respiratory, digestive, urinary, reproductive, nervous, musculo-skeletal systems and skin.
Wind is understood as the biggest trouble-maker as it often combines with other influences to wreak havoc in the body. It can affect the joints, bring on skin rashes, or cause a spell of dizziness, among other issues. Cold can kill the digestive fire; combine that with a damp invasion and you can experience bloating and/or nausea. Heat and dryness, on the other hand, can injure the blood and yin fluids of the body causing symptoms such as fever, restlessness, scanty painful urination, brittle hair and excessive thirst.
Chinese medicine takes a more preventative approach to these issues by addressing imbalances before they express as more severe symptoms. There is also a focus on the integrity of the defensive energy of the body as well as the body's ability to handle transitions with stability.
Knowing our bodies will be continuously exposed to the challenge of seasonal weather changes and potential extremes of climate conditions, we can prepare accordingly.
Don’t wait for an internal weather emergency to call for an appointment, get in asap to strengthen your resilience to external weather conditions, balance out your internal climates and assist you in transitioning season to season with ease and well-being!
Resource to expand on climates: https://tcmwiki.com/wiki/six-climatic-factors
A study published by The National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health looked at the effects of acupuncture on the regulation of lipid and glucose metabolism in patients suffering from metabolic syndrome. The study followed 76 metabolic syndrome patients over a period of time and divided them into two groups. The first group received only conventional medical treatments/pharmaceuticals, while the second group received conventional medical treatments plus regular acupuncture treatments. The body mass index (BMI), blood lipid, blood glucose and comprehensive therapeutic effects were compared before and after treatment in both groups. The results revealed the group that received acupuncture plus conventional medical treatments had superior improvement over the group that only received conventional medical treatments. The subjects showed improvement in BMI, triglyceride, total cholesterol, low-density lipoprotein cholesterol, fasting blood glucose, high density lipoprotein cholesterol, fasting insulin and insulin resistance index. This study provides strong evidence that acupuncture can greatly improve the health of patients suffering from metabolic disorders, when coupled with conventional medical treatments.
Metabolism is defined as the chemical processes that occur within a living organism in order to maintain life. That’s not something that most people consciously think about. It just happens and we automatically assume it will happen, regardless of what we do on a daily basis. But this isn’t always the case. Some people are born with genetic defects that can mess with their metabolism. Others develop metabolic disorders over time from not taking proper care of themselves. Metabolic disorders can also be trauma induced.
As with most health issues, conventional medicine typically treats metabolic issues with pharmaceuticals. For some this works very well. But there are always side effects with pharmaceuticals and the body can also develop a resistance to them over time. So when it comes to metabolic disorders, a natural approach is usually a better long term choice. This is where acupuncture and Traditional Chinese Medicine can be very beneficial.
According to Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), all disease occurs in the body due to either a lack, excess or blockage of energy. TCM treats these energy imbalances using a host of modalities, but acupuncture is the most commonly known and used. Most metabolic diseases are a result of an imbalance of hormones such as insulin, glucose and thyroid hormones. These three components are key to keeping the body functioning properly and can easily be thrown off. Too much stress, poor dietary habits and lack of exercise are all reasons why the body’s metabolism may not be functioning correctly.
Acupuncture has been shown to balance hormones when accompanied by lifestyle modifications. Acupuncture helps control food cravings, boosts metabolism, improves digestion and helps the liver function optimally. The liver produces chemicals that help break down fat, while filtering out toxins that can slow our body’s ability to digest and regulate. Excess stress can lead to a slower metabolism, an increase in body fat and poor sleep. Regular acupuncture treatments can help reduce stress
If you’re feeling tired or sluggish, put on some weight, or are dealing with stress and depression, acupuncture can definitely help.
Rebecca M H Kitzerow is a Licensed Acupuncturist practicing in La Center, Washington. With over a decade of experience she has won 10 Nattie consumer choice awards from Natural Awakenings Magazine since 2014.