Thursday, April 23, 2015

Difficulties Sleeping? Put Insomnia to Rest!

Our society puts a premium on our waking hours and has the tendency to underestimate the importance of a full-night's sleep. Often, good sleep hygiene is an afterthought for many people. Millions of people are besieged with insomnia and look for quick fixes instead of exploring the root causes of the problem.

Evening is a time to allow our minds and bodies to turn inward to our subconscious. Excessive lighting at night, evening shift work, evening computing, video games, television and late-night eating all serve to counteract the body's natural rhythms. It's no wonder people have trouble sleeping. Exposure to early morning light and dusk helps to regulate sleep hormones in the body. Rather than embrace nighttime we tend to let our minds wander from one element of stress to another keeping us up for hours or perhaps an entire evening. We are then forced to approach the new day without having benefited from the regenerative powers that night time brings.

In Oriental medicine sleep occurs when the yang energy of the day folds into Yin - nighttime. Yin energy of the body is cooling and restorative. It is the time of day when our bodies turn inward and regenerate. This is the time we dream and explore the caverns of our unconscious mind. Conversely, daytime is yang, which is expansive. We expend the energy we have built up from the process of sleeping. Together, this is the cycle of yin and yang.

To apply the concept of yin and yang to your everyday life try eating your last meal at least three hours before going to bed. If you are a hot excess type, you can cool your body down by avoiding hot and spicy food and drink. Avoid alcohol, coffee, chocolate any other stimulants, especially late in the day.

Help circulate your body's energy by working out or by gentle exercising. Build your body's nutritive aspect by eating marrow based soups and stews, dark pigmented vegetables and fruits. Avoid overworking or over rumination as well.

Meditation is an invaluable tool to help your brain unwind. Helping the body create a sense of calm meditation can reduce stress, increase feelings of well-being, and improve overall health. It is of specific use to help one increase alertness, relaxation and reflection even in "waking" states. Meditation is best practiced during the day to help ease your sleep patterns at night.

One contributor to insomnia, stress, weakens the function of the liver, which in turn affects the health of your nerves. Acupuncture and Oriental medicine have a calming effect on the nervous system clearing obstructions in the muscle and nerve channels, assisting the flow of oxygen-enriched energy and relaxing the system. Common noted benefits include deeper breathing, improved digestive abilities, better sleeping patterns, and a general sense of well being.

Practicing good sleep hygiene and keeping your body in sync with the rhythm of day and night can help your body cope with sleep deprivation give it an opportunity to get stronger and heal.

By implementing just a few of the following suggestions you should notice a great improvement in your sleep and how you function in the daylight hours.

  • Maintain a routine sleep schedule.
  • Make your bedroom a sanctuary.
  • Keep it dark, cool, and quiet.
  • Establish a sense of safety with your surroundings.
  • Reduce nicotine, caffeine and alcohol use.
  • Avoid rigorous exercise 3-5 hours prior to bedtime.
  • Avoid heavy meals near bedtime.
  • Position clock away from the bed.
  • Limit television and computer use to early evening.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Traditional Chinese Medicine - 101

Often when working with a patient, I will point out that their liver is stagnated or their spleen is weak. Patients often look at me wide-eyed, nervous, asking, “How is my liver damaged, I don‘t drink?” Or they look at me puzzled and exclaim, “Spleen is that even a real organ!”

In the clinic, conversations often turn to Chinese Medicine fundamentals. I thought a blog on some basic organ theory might be an interesting topic to share. The Chinese ancients had many ways to interpret health: yin/yang theory, five elements, zang/fu, three burners. Clinically, I use zang/fu diagnosis or organ theory. Using zang/fu diagnosis, as a practitioner, I am able to view the body as an integrated whole: body, mind and spirit.

There are twelve organs in the Chinese medical model. Six are yin and six are yang. Yin organs, because they store vital substances (blood and essence) are often seen as more important than the yang ones. Yang organs are more functional in nature. Below, I have listed the six yin organs with a little information about each one.

Heart/Pericardium: The Heart, ruler or monarch, is the most important of the internal organs while the Pericardium is its protective covering. Much like the Western Heart, the Eastern one is responsible for circulating blood in the blood vessels. The state of the health of the Heart is reflected in the complexion. If Heart blood is healthy, a person‘s complexion will appear rosy and lustrous. If the blood is deficient, the complexion will be pale or bright white. The Heart also houses the mind or shen. If the Heart is strong, the mind will be strong and a person will be happy. Conversely, if the Heart is weak, the mind will lack vitality and a person will be more prone to sadness and depression. Since the Heart stores the mind, it is very closely related to sleep. If the Heart blood is strong, a person will fall asleep easily and sleep soundly. If the Heart is weak, the mind will float at night, making it difficult to fall asleep, eventually leading to disturbing dreams.

Spleen: The Spleen is central in the production of Qi (energy) as it takes food and turns it into energy. The Spleen is crucial for digestion. Therefore, if the Spleen is strong, digestion, appetite and bowel habits will be too. If the Spleen is weak, a person might suffer from abdominal distention, loose stools and a poor appetite. As the Spleen is in charge of making Qi, it also transports it (with the help of a few other organs) to the muscles. When the Spleen is strong, a person feels energetic and able. When the spleen is weak, a person often feels tired, complaining of a feeling of heaviness. The spleen houses our thought process and gives us the capacity to think, study, concentrate, focus and memorize. When the Spleen is strong, a person has a clear mind with superb concentration skills. When the Spleen is weak, studying is hard and concentration becomes deadly.

Lung: Much like the Western Lung, the Eastern Lung is in charge of respiration. The Lung is in charge of inhaling clean air and exhaling the dirty. The Lung also controls the skin and hair. When the Lung is strong, skin is moist and hair is shiny. Conversely, when the Lung is weak, the skin is rough and hair can be dry. The nose is the opening to the Lung and through it, breathing occurs. When the Lung is strong, the nose is open and a person has a strong sense of smell. When the Lung is weak, the nose can be congested, sneezing and loss of smell can result. The Lung is greatly affected by sadness and grief. These two emotions can constrain the Lung, making breathing difficult and shallow. Practitioners often treat the Lung in an attempt to alleviate depression, sadness, and grief.

Kidney: The Kidney stores Essence that comes from our parents and is established at conception (think DNA.) Essence is what determines our basic constitution and controls our aging process. Therefore, if our Kidney is strong, a person is robust, charged with sexual power and fertility. Conversely, if the Kidney is weak, sexual weakness and infertility reign. The Kidney also rules the bones. And so, when the Kidney is strong, so too are teeth and bones. When the Kidney is weak, the bones can become brittle and the teeth can become loose. The ears are also related to the Kidney. When the Kidney is healthy, one can hear easily. When the Kidney is weak, hearing can be impaired, and there maybe ear ringing (tinnitus).

Liver: Liver is considered the army general as it is in charge of making sure that the whole body functions smoothly. The Liver makes sure that Qi circulates throughout, to all organs and in all directions. When Qi moves smoothly, a person feels content and happy. When the Qi becomes restrained, a person often feels frustrated, angry and depressed. When Qi moves smoothly, the organs function with ease and agility. However, when Qi becomes stuck, a person might experience physical symptoms like belching, abdominal pain, cold hands and feet, pre-menstrual tension and painful periods. The Liver also regulates blood, making sure that there is enough of it when the body needs it. The Liver sends blood to moisten the eyes, muscles and nails. When Liver blood is lacking, the eyes can be dry or myopic, the muscles can spasm and the nails can be dry and brittle. Lastly, the Liver influences our capacity to plan and pick direction for our lives. When the Liver is strong, we are able to plan our lives with vision and wisdom. When the Liver is weak, a person has trouble finding direction and often feels aimless and unrooted.

Study up, and next time you are in the clinic we can chat more about organ theory and diagnosis. Of course, if you are experiencing any of the symptoms described, come in for a treatment. And even if you are feeling balanced and able, regular acupuncture helps keep the organs doing their respective jobs so that you can do yours.