Nearly two out of three Americans are affected by insomnia and other sleep disorders. With that many people resting poorly, it is a wonder anyone gets through the workweek – let alone their whole life!
In Chinese medicine, nighttime is considered “yin time,” which is when your body takes care of itself. Proper sleep is necessary for your body to repair itself and regenerate.
Insomnia is one of the most common conditions I see in my medical practice, usually as part of a pattern of imbalances. Excessive worry, anxiety and depression all negatively affect the delicate balance of the liver, spleen and heart, disturbing the spirit and activating the mind. Once the mind is active, it becomes increasingly difficult to fall asleep. To reach deep, restful sleep, your spirit and heart must be calm and your liver and spleen networks must work together to process nutrients.
Four Exercises That Target Insomnia
The famous Taoist physician Ge Hong, who lived during the Han dynasty in the third century, promoted this set of exercises as prevention and treatment of insomnia. Chinese studies indicate that these moves effectively improved the sleep quality of chronic insomniacs when practiced nightly for two to four weeks.
1. Lie on your back with bent knees. Pull your knees toward your chest and breathe naturally. Hold this position for one minute, then relax, straighten your legs, and rest your arms at your sides.
2. Remain on your back, inhale, and stretch both arms up overhead. Exhale, bring your hands down, and massage your body from your chest to your abdomen. Then rest your hands at your sides. Repeat with every breath for one minute.
3. On your back, make loose fists with both hands. Place them under your back toward the shoulder blades, one fist on either side of your spine. Take three complete breaths, then reposition your fists downward one notch and repeat, moving downward every third breath until your fists are at waist level. Take five breaths here. Now put your fists on either side of the tailbone and take five more breaths.
4. Lie face down with your hands under your abdomen. Inhale, filling your abdomen and chest, and feel the energy permeate your whole body. Exhale and visualize negativity leaving your body. Pause after each exhalation and relax every muscle. Do this for one minute.
A Taoist Sleep Position: “Deer Sleep Posture”
Ge Hong recommended following the four anti-insomnia exercises above with this sleeping posture, called the “deer sleep posture” because it looks similar to a deer asleep in the wild. Turn partway over to sleep on your right side. Bend your right arm at the elbow, with the palm facing up in front of your face. Rest your left arm with your elbow on hip, hand dropped down in front of your abdomen. The right leg is naturally straight, and the left knee is bent, resting on the mattress in front of your right thigh.
Empty Your Mind
Rumination, the emotion of the spleen network, concentrates energy within the brain. For example, when one continually ponders problems, the most frequent symptom experienced is insomnia. In this case, the energy stays in the brain at night instead of following its normal course of descending to the lower part of the body, which allows one to sleep peacefully. Try writing in a journal every night to get thoughts and worries out of your mind and down on paper. Another way is meditation, which has long been practiced to get beyond the thinking mind and into a deeper state of relaxation.