World Wellbeing Week is coming up soon, and few things are as important for our physical and mental wellbeing as good night's sleep!
One in three adults in the UK suffers from insomnia, and as many as half of us don’t get enough shut-eye. Besides the immediate impact on our work and personal lives caused by fatigue, brain fog and irritability, numerous studies show clear links between sleep deficit and increased risk of chronic conditions such as heart disease and diabetes, as well as cognitive disorders including dementia.
Time to get some more zzzzzs! In this blog, we’ll look at how DIY acupressure massage, evening routine and bedroom arrangement can help promote a sound and good night's sleep.
Acupressure Massage For a Good Night's Sleep
Acupressure has been used in Traditional Chinese Medicine for thousands of years to relieve insomnia and promote restful and good night's sleep. It can be incorporated into your wind-down routine, or done right there in bed when you’re lying awake waiting in vain for the sandman, or you’ve woken up in the middle of the night and can’t get back to sleep.
Which points are most useful for you may depend on what’s keeping you awake – if there is pain or discomfort in a particular area of your body, the advice would be specific to your condition. To get personalized advice, remember you can always book a virtual or in-person DIY acupressure massage therapy session with me. (Also if hot flashes and night sweats are stealing your slumber, stay tuned for a special blog on acupressure for menopause coming soon!)
But since an overactive mind tends to be the most common cause of disturbed sleep, let’s start by looking at some tried and tested acupoints for calming the mind and promoting deep rest. For self-applied acupressure massage we’ve selected a few such points which are easy to reach while lying comfortably in bed.
DIY Self-Acupressure technique
To stimulate the acupoints, go into them slowly but firmly with a finger or thumb, and massage them with a circular or up-and-down motion. Generally it’s recommended that you work on each point for at least 30 seconds and up to 3 minutes at a time – but if you’re lying in bed, don’t worry about trying to time it! Instead just close your eyes and breath deeply while you massage, counting around 10 to 20 breaths for each point (this will help you relax as well as giving a rough time frame). Breathe right down into your lower belly, to draw that restless energy down out of your head.
Anmian or Peaceful Sleep
The name of these two points says it all. Used for treating insomnia and other sleep disturbances, such as nightmares or excessive dreaming, they can easily be stimulated while lying on your back in bed.
To find them, place a finger or thumb on the bony protrusion behind each earlobe, then slide the fingers back and slightly upwards into the depression between that bony protrusion and the base of the skull.
Spirit Gate or Shenmen - HT7
Widely used in acupuncture and acupressure for calming mental and physical agitation, this point on the Heart Meridian is a panacea for sleep disorders as well as stress, anxiety and depression.
With the palm facing upwards, find the small hollow on the outermost part of the wrist crease (the side closest to the little finger), just below the bone at the base of the hand. (It’s the same on both wrists – you can massage either, or both in sequence.)
Chest Centre or Shan Zhong - CV17 (REN17)
Also known as the "Sea of Tranquillity", this is an important point on the Conception Vessel meridian. It's located on the centre of the breastbone, about three thumbs' width above the bone's base where you will feel an indentation.
A great mind-body balancing point, CV17 provides relief from stress and anxiety, along with other emotional imbalances and physical disorders of the heart and chest. Massaging it before you go to sleep helps to relax the body and mind, ensuring peaceful slumber.
Hall of Impression or Yintang - EX2
This point is located between your eyebrows where your forehead and nose’s bridge meet, hence the nickname third eye. Another excellent point for easing anxiety and stress, it’s often used for insomnia and other sleep disorders.
Yintang can also help to relieve headaches and nasal/sinus congestion, as well as enhancing concentration and memory.
More Tips For Sound Sleep
How we spend our evenings, and especially the last hour or so before going to bed, can have a huge impact on our sleep. Try to get in a healthy routine of winding down and going to bed at a regular time, to ensure you get enough quality shut-eye.
Avoid eating a heavy meal within 3-4 hours of bed-time – ideally have dinner earlier in the evening, or eat a lighter meal if it’s getting late. Having a nice full tummy may make us feel drowsy, but it can also make us more prone to waking up in the small hours with indigestion, especially if we’ve binged on high fat and spicy foods.
Good To Read: Why Sleep is Vital to Your Overall Health
Likewise, alcohol may lull us off to sleep but find us tossing and turning a few hours later. If you do drink in the evening, try to down a glass of water for every alcoholic drink, to dilute the effect and keep you hydrated – but if you want to avoid nocturnal trips to the loo, better stop taking any fluids at least two hours before bedtime!
And caffeine should of course be avoided in the evening if you are prone to insomnia or restless sleep, along with food and drinks with high sugar content. Try herbal teas instead – camomile, lavender, and valerian root are all very soporific – though again, allow enough time for them to pass through your system before bedtime! Smoking is also a no-no for insomniacs, as nicotine is a stimulant.
“Some people can’t sleep because they have insomnia. I can’t sleep because I have internet.” — Anonymous
Technology is without a doubt the biggest culprit for keeping many of us up late and keeping our minds overactive even after we hit the sack. The blue light emitted by mobile, computer and TV screens suppresses the production of melatonin, the hormone that tells us when it’s time to sleep, effectively tricking our brains into thinking it’s daytime – and the barrage of information that comes through those screens keeps our minds busy, often resulting in restless sleep or insomnia.
So the bottom line is.. SWITCH OFF!
Ideally, all devices should be off an hour before bedtime, and your bedroom should be tech-free (more on that a bit later). But one step at a time.. if you’re used to keeping your phone switched on and next to your bed overnight, first try switching it to flight mode and putting it in your nightstand drawer. Once you’ve got used to that, switch it off at night. Then switch it off half an hour before bedtime, along with your computer and TV, then an hour before.. and leave it to charge in another room, so that you won’t be tempted to switch on in the middle of the night!
Try it! Trust me.. it goes a long way towards reclaiming those elusive zzzzzs.
Now that you’re unplugged, spend that blissful hour before bedtime just winding down. Listen to some relaxing music, do a little light reading, have a warm bath or shower. Gentle yoga stretches, qigong and meditation are all great for calming the body and mind. Once you’ve got into a good pre-sleep routine, this might just be your favourite part of the day!
Creating a restful sleeping space
A cozy, inviting bedroom with a comfortable bed is a must for sound slumber. We spend roughly a third of our lives in bed – if we’re getting our recommended dose of zzzz that is – so this space is important!
Take a look at your bedroom aesthetics.. can you make space feel more restful? You don’t need to hire a fengshui consultant, but try to create a harmonious feeling in the way your furniture and belongings are arranged. If you’re thinking of redecorating, consider a soft, muted natural colour scheme. Blue is the hands-down winner in studies of calming and sleep-conducive bedroom colours, while other good options are soft shades of green, beige and yellow. Avoid overly bright, vibrant colours in the bedroom, especially red.
Above all, declutter! Piles of bills, dirty clothes and other bric a brac make us feel “cluttered” both inside and out. As much as possible, avoid using your bedroom as a storage space – but if you have no choice, make sure everything is tidily tucked away to create a peaceful, spacious sleeping zone.
Invest in a good mattress and bedding – natural fibres such as cotton, silk, linen, bamboo and wool all help to regulate body heat and entice us into dreamland. The same goes for nightwear – changing into a comfy pair of pjs helps us subconsciously shift into bedtime mode.
Try to minimize light in the room – if you’re bothered by streetlights or long hours of daylight, get some blackout blinds or curtains, and/or try wearing an eye mask (silk is best as it’s gentle on the skin and naturally hypoallergenic).
For noise reduction, take a look at your floor coverings – soft carpets and rugs can help to muffle sound, as can thick curtains. If you’re particularly sensitive to noise or have to sleep in a loud environment, you might consider investing in a white noise machine to mask the sound (keeping a fan running or radio static can also achieve the same effect).
Last but not least, along with your mobile (see above), computers and TVs should ideally be banished from the bedroom! But if your living space doesn’t allow that, try draping something over them at night to minimize their subconscious lure. Unplug anything that is not being used overnight, and if you have to leave a device charging, cover up those little red or blue lights (with a towel, a slipper, whatever you have to hand!) as they subliminally disrupt our brains’ natural wake/sleep rhythms.
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