The function of sleep and the expectation of that functionality are God-given. After work comes rest. With rest, we function in the rest of our lives more completely. Without rest, we find ourselves lacking in vitality, lost and confused.
The paradox here is that we can’t try harder to sleep. In every other endeavor, if we work harder, we come closer to our goals. We use the phrase, “try and get some sleep,” but we can’t ever ‘try’ to sleep, we just get to sleep. In fact, the great irony is that the more we put effort into sleeping, the less likely it is going to happen.
Getting Into That Insomnia Cycle
I know for many of us the cause might have been in how little we respected sleep at some juncture in our lives. Where did we get the extra time we needed for those reports? From sleep. Where did we find the time to stay out late with our friends when we had a full day at work the next day? From sleep.
I used to drive through the night to get to the far away ski hill so I could ski all the next day. Again, I took that time from sleep. I cannot tell you how many times we’ve traced long serious and chronic disabilities to shift work and its lack of respect for sleep. Now the patient may be spending a lot of money on health care, largely traceable to the stresses of inadequate sleep, wondering if it was ever worth it.
Just thinking and thinking and…
A patient might come in and say, “I just can’t begin to get to sleep. I’m certainly tired enough. I’m tired all the time, but I just lay in bed and think… I guess I’m just too tired to go to sleep.”
Everything this person says is true. They are too tired. They think too much. They probably have lots of stomach and digestive problems too and too little actual energy resources to get to sleep.
The Stomach Part
I treat a lot of stomach problems; more particularly stomach prolapse. A stomach will prolapse, or fall, from excessive worry or overthinking. Ironically, once the stomach has prolapsed, the person will be more prone to worry and over think. If this goes on for a long time, digestion will become poor and the person will become tired. Too tired to sleep. This could be one of those people who has to get up and fix themselves something to eat just to go to sleep. This is because they need the short-term energy to sleep. However eating right before you go to bed makes for short, restless sleep. In the long run, it is disastrous to the waistline and you are tired and putting on weight.
This is one of those vicious cycles that has to be broken and in some sense, it has to be changed completely. The problem lies in the stomach that has fallen, the spleen (Chinese medicine’s digestive machine) and the resultant lack of stored energy, the kidneys.
The Cascading Cycle of Insomnia
Overthinking, worrying and obsessing are locked into our digestive system. If it eventuates into fear, it is usually indicative that the kidney energies are failing. In that case, as soon as we do get to sleep, we are going to the bathroom. When the kidney energy gets low, we find ourselves stiff and sore as we try to get out of bed in the morning. We could also possibly find ourselves aching in the low back throughout the day.
In most cases, the person cannot begin to get a handle not sleeping, and the only solution becomes prescription sleep aids. Even when they are said to be non-addictive, the body-mind decides that it is not going to get to sleep without them. So in that sense, you are addicted to what your mind and a good night’s sleep demands. Certainly, this is a slippery slope that you have to get a handle on. The answer lies in lifting back up the stomach and getting your digestion and energy back into the game.
It’s a problem that I find very often and have written about many times before. This is quite common, actually, and it has a lot to do with the stresses of the world and how they affect us. Ultimately, to Chinese Medicine, it is a problem of the Liver and/or the gallbladder.
Many people get to sleep okay, but they find themselves waking up in the middle of the night. They are unable to get back to sleep again until about four o’clock in the morning. This is onlyabout two hours before the alarm goes off and they have to get up and face a new day, tired! This, ironically, actually exacerbates and pervades the problem. The liver needs to have rest to stay functional and let you sleep in the night, so the vicious cycle continues. The Liver gets worse and so does the sleep.
When we eat poorly it affects the Gallbladder, as it has only so much capacity for the rich North American diet. Notably among these are fats and oils, but caffeine-rich food, especially coffee and chocolate can be guilty of this too. If we eat these things, the Gallbladder affects its neighbor, the Liver and we aren’t sleeping during the night. If we sleep at all, it is a restless sleep and we still wake up tired.
Well then, we say, I’ll just make it up on Saturday or Sunday morning and fix this cycle with a little extra rest. Probably not. One of the things noted with a Gallbladder condition is the inability to sleep late. In fact. many of my most frustrated patients with this overall condition, wake up obscenely early. If they ever make it past 7 am on the weekend, it would be cause for a celebration. Oh Goody! Let’s see, bacon, eggs, toast slathered in butter and three or four cups of coffee. Oh well, so much for breaking old cycles.
The Big Picture
What this all boils down to is worry, the stomach, and stress, The Liver, and diet. That’s probably what you thought it was in the first place, right? The problem is that these emotional forces have a great deal of effect on our physical body. Then it becomes locked into organ dysfunction. That makes the problem continue even when the problems that started the stress and worry have been surmounted.
Insomnia in any form is no small matter. It is a symptom of imbalance and eventually leads to more serious conditions of psychological and physical proportion. In the beginning, it can usually be easily solved. When it is a problem that becomes more embedded, getting back into a sleep cycle and can be a major ordeal. From then on, the person approaches bed with a great deal of fear and apprehension, when falling asleep should be the most natural thing of all.
Good Sleep Begets Good Sleep
When we sleep our body secretes a hormone called Melatonin. You've probably heard of it as it is called the 'sleep hormone.' You can buy the synthetic, but we find that many poor sleepers are allergic to it. Then we have to treat it to let the body accept it again. When we don't sleep, our bodies don't produce it. Good sleepers become better sleepers and bad sleepers become worse sleepers. How can we become so bad at something we were so good at when we were kids? The return back to sleep is such a wonderful condition to return home to.