Improving South Londoners’ sleep

Treating patients with acupuncture in South London, I am often surprised at the number of people suffering from sleep problems. But there are plenty of things we can do for ourselves, if only we understand what can help.

A healthy adult is understood to need between 6-8 hours sleep a day to allow the body to process all the information of the day, sort through it all to get rid of unnecessary information, and to allow the body and conscious mind to rest and recharge.

In the Independent in August, there was an article titled “”. The article reveals research that one in four people in the UK have poor sleep and one in ten suffer from a sleep disorder.

The article highlights how insomnia is a very common problem that is usually left untreated or treated with sleeping pills. The pills often create the desired effect and sleep is restored. However, after a while, the ‘side effects’ of these pills may or may not start to manifest. This is the great flaw in non-holistic treatment – while the symptom is noted and drugs prescribed to treat the symptom, the underlying root cause is left untreated, and so a dependency on the drugs develops to maintain the sleep. On top of that, many sleeping tablets are physically addictive.

The main highlight of the article describes how Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) has proven highly effective to help with sleep disorders, and how, if many more general medical practitioners were trained in the therapy, many more people would have access to natural, safe and effective treatment for sleep disorders.

Acupuncture is another therapy that can have great success in correcting sleep imbalances, as it directly tackles the internal imbalances that lie at the root of the poor sleep, as it is a body therapy that also affects the mind, and a skilled acupuncturist will furthermore help you correct any limiting beliefs and behaviours.

Acupuncture theory, similarly, shows how there are often various ways we can help ourselves get better sleep through small, simple changes to habits.

Types of sleep imbalance

There are several ways in which our night’s sleep can be disturbed:

– difficulty getting off to sleep (either lying awake with nothing in the mind, or an overactive mind that goes round in circles without resolution)

– waking in the night, breaking up the ability to go into deep sleep (either from nightmares, physical pain, needing to urinate, or for no discernable reason); perhaps returning straight to sleep, but also lying awake with a still or an overactive mind

– waking early (normally about 5am) without being able to return to sleep

– finding getting up in the morning a real struggle

Self help for insomnia

There are also, in the absence of a doctor or therapist, several things that are understood to help people with insomnia:

–          go to sleep and wake up at regular times;

this helps programme sleep into the diurnal (daily) rhythms, so that the body will naturally get ready for sleep at ‘sleeping time’ and wake at ‘waking time’

–          make your bedroom for sleeping;

one of the most useful pieces of advice one of my acupuncture patients was given at the London Sleep Clinic was to get up if you don’t fall asleep after 20 minutes. This is because our bodies become trained to associate the bedroom with a lack of sleep, and we can reset this simple mechanism by getting up and out of the bedroom, and getting on with some other activity until we feel tired again.

–          take more exercise;

exercise helps the blood and energy flow in the body so any tensions from the day are more likely to be relieved, and when the body is exhausted, sleep is obviously easier

–     cut out stimulants such as tea and coffee, particularly in the few hours before bed

–          eat supper early;

the body takes roughly 4 hours to digest food, so we should be eating our last meal at least 4 hours before we go to bed, so that when we go to sleep, the body does not have to compromise between digestion and sleep. In Chinese medicine there is the phrase “Breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince, supper like a pauper”, a very wise saying.

–          relax before going to bed;

take a warm bath, practise some qigong, tai chi, yoga or meditation, or listen to some relaxing music.

In dealing with your sleep problems through acupuncture, you will find that other aspects of life also come into balance, as the treatment is applied at a root level as well as at the level of symptoms.

George Monkhouse practises acupuncture and teaches qigong in Dulwich, at the Vale Practice and at Dulwich College Sports Club. He also runs workshops teaching emotional balance, and works with businesses to improve staff healthcare, motivation and productivity.

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