After years of suffering from insomnia, I now fall asleep at 9.30pm and, most nights, sleep right through to the morning. It is the most blissful feeling and I’ll never take sleep for granted again.
Sleep seemed out of reach for me for years until I discovered that there is a system to it. Anyone can apply this and get a deep refreshing sleep every night. The key to curing insomnia is to ‘get out of your head before you go to bed’, but way before you go to bed.
Back in my ‘success’ days I did whatever it took to achieve my business goals during the day. By night I lay in bed exhausted, but simultaneously jumpy and hyper-alert. I felt like I had bees in my head. I dreaded going to bed, I never slept, or I’d finally get to sleep an hour or so before I had to get up for work.
My bedside table could have been an insomnia shop. It was laden with medicinal herbs, sleeping potions, and a back-up bottle of wine to chug on when all else failed. All else did fail, and the wine did too, and it just added a hangover to the awful after-effects of endless insomnia.
Desperate though I was, I never used sleeping pills. They interrupt the quality of your sleep, they make you feel like crap during the day, and they have hideous side effects. They create more problems than they solve. And, if you change your lifestyle, sleeping pills, and plenty of other medications, are not necessary
Insomnia is a lifestyle disorder, this discovery changed my life. Insomnia is not something you can fix when it hits. Insomnia and other sleep disorders like frequent waking during the night or waking at 3am unable to get back to sleep, are the outcome of everything you do from when you wake up. So when you wake up is when you start to fix sleep disorders.
I trained as an acupuncturist and in Chinese medicine being able to fall asleep is a function of your body, not your mind. You can’t use your mind to will yourself to sleep, believe me I’ve tried! Your body (or more accurately your organs) controls your ability to sleep. Your body controls your mind as well, and if you have sleep disorders it is because your lifestyle has let your mind think it is running the show.
Create a balanced relationship between body and mind, then your mind can work for you during the day, rather than against you during the night and you will sleep. A balanced body mind relationship is a secret to success in everything in life, not just sleep. Sleep is a big one though. If you can sleep, it impacts on your health and happiness in more ways than you can imagine. Make a few changes to your day and it will change your nights.
1. Stay out of your head when you wake up
These days most people, whether they have slept or not, get up in the morning and immediately turn on computers, tablets, or phones and then email, grab a coffee, make calls or send messages.
These are activities that we call ‘yang’ in Chinese medicine. Your mind loves this stuff. Your mind is yang, it has no limitations. Start the day like this though, and you are setting yourself up for insomnia. If you let your mind get behind the wheel first thing in the morning, it will control the day and in no time it will control your nights as well and prevent sleep.
Not only that but you are creating lots of little internal imbalances that you won’t notice at the time but they will add up until you are trapped in the sped-up, time-poor lifestyle that contributes to road-rage, digestive problems, chronic fatigue, food allergies, anxiety, addiction, psychosis, obesity, heart disease and panic disorders as well.
2. Start your day with your body, not your mind
It’s really easy to start the day in your head, and much harder to start in your body but make the effort. You have to take charge. Do this by getting up as near to 5am as possible and immediately moving.
Give yourself 20 minutes in your body. Do not think about work, problems or trouble-shooting the challenges of the day ahead, just move. Do some stretching and breathing and exercise. Go for a walk, ride a bike, do yoga, do anything at all that is movement.
This automatically puts your body behind the wheel and your mind has to sit in the back seat. It will make faces and do its version of ‘are we are nearly there yet?’ by trying to engage you in stress over imminent deadlines or by dragging up things from the past to annoy you all over again.
Ignore this. Do not engage. If you can control this, you activate an internal behind-the scenes program which establishes boundaries for your mind. In the evening your mind will understand that it is bedtime. You will fall into a deep nourishing sleep and wake up refreshed and happy.
3. Sit down and eat a warm breakfast with no distractions
You ‘save’ your new boundary-setting programming of the morning, by sitting down and having a nutritious breakfast somewhere between 7am and 9am. Try to take 15 minutes, or 10 even, to just sit and eat without any distractions.
That means no newspaper, TV, social media, emails, texts or calls. All of these activities let your mind off the leash and interfere with your digestion (creating bloating and weight gain). Your mind will pick up speed and by evening it will be racing out of control. Set boundaries for your mind and it relearns its place.
4. Work hard from 9am until 1pm.
After breakfast is the time for your mind to take the drivers seat. If you’ve given it a rest so far, it’s going to be focused and really working for you. Unleash the powers of your mind by challenging, communicating, organizing and planning. Be super productive. Set your mind to achieving a whole list of stuff. It loves this.
5. Sit down have a warm cooked lunch.
To be able to sleep at night, you have to be able to ‘hand over’. This is a function of your body, not your mind. If you are experiencing sleep disorders this function is faulty.
It takes training to get it working again and this is what lunchtime is all about. Lunchtime is when you practice ‘I hand over’ from mind to body. You switch from a yang or active mind mode, to a yin or more laid-back mode (yin is a prerequisite for sleep).
Activate this switch by stopping work, sitting down and enjoying a nutritious cooked lunch. Make this the main meal of your day. No eating at your desk, and no multi-tasking while you eat. No newspapers, TV, social media, calls or texts.
Do any of that while you eat and your mind will be gaining yang momentum, which is going to peak right when you try to go to sleep. Your mind needs a little quiet time now, it has just done 5 hours of hard work.
*No more coffee from now on.
6. Stop work by 6pm
If you want any hope of being able to sleep, do easier jobs throughout the afternoon and then stop work completely by 6pm. This is not negotiable.
Stop work, relax, and let everything be. Avoid stress, family arguments, relationship discussions and stimulants. Do all those things at other times. Falling asleep is an internal function and if you keep working past 6pm, that function cannot work.
*If you follow these 10 cure insomnia lifestyle tips, you shouldn’t have to work late or pull all-nighters, because you will be so productive in the morning that by lunchtime you’ll be on top of your workload for the day.
7. Take some ‘yin’ herbs
You can support success in the mornings and sleep in the evenings with supplements. Use Chinese yang-building herbs to keep your productivity rolling in the morning, and take yin herbs after work to quieten your mind and support the sleep function later in the evening.
8. Chill out
After 6pm chill out. Do something creative, do some yoga or tai-chi, or recreational sport or social media. This signals your mind to calm down and switch off (and its fun!).
9. Eat for sleep
Eat a light evening meal (make lunch your major meal – your waistline will thank you for this). Have vegetable soups, stir-fry vegetables, rice and fish. Absolutely no sugar, no coffee, no stimulants, but a glass of wine is fine.
10. Disconnect from all devices
Disconnect from all your devices by 9:00pm at the latest. Don’t even take them into your bedroom.
Never check your mobile phone during the night and never use it as an alarm. This activates your mind and it will be off and running.
Buy an old fashioned alarm clock (electronic lights in the bedroom interrupt sleep). Don’t have a TV in your bedroom. Use block-out curtains so you have no artificial street light in your bedroom.
11. Take a natural sleep aid
When you go to bed, take a natural sleep aid. I use Chinese herbal formulas but see a health professional for a supplement that suits you.
These sleep aids can enhance the yin state necessary for deep refreshing sleep (they won’t work without the sleep function in place though). Then lie down, close your eyes, hand over, like you practiced at lunch time, and fall deeply blissfully asleep.
The power of sleep
Follow these ten steps every day and your ability to sleep will return. It may take a while especially if, like me, you had years of insomnia, but it will work.
Everything else in your life will improve as well. This routine is the basis of my chi-cycle lifestyle and a recipe for health and happiness. Moodiness disappears, energy picks up, weight normalizes, eyes and skin brighten and life becomes enjoyable again.
Sleep is a secret to health and happiness. Western medicine has found that 7-8 hours sleep a night significantly reduces the risk of stroke and depression. Traditional Chinese medicine has found that it increases your sense of purpose and makes your life feel more meaningful. I have found that there is nothing like sleeping through the night and waking up each day with a clear idea of who you are and what you are here for. It’s priceless. For more on getting to sleep, what happens while you sleep and on the mystical nature of sleep read my book Clock On To Health.