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Wake up to good sleeping habits

SLEEP is essential to maintaining health, the ancient Chinese believe. TCM has a number of rules that can help bring the right sort of rest for the troubled at night, as Zhang Qian reports.

Ancient kings and emperors spent their entire lives searching for the secret of longevity but the secret might just have lain in their pillows. Good sleep can help regulate energy flows and improve health. To enjoy good sleep, our TCM doctor suggests no late suppers, no late heavy physical exercise, don't go over things in your mind and don't lie on your left-hand side.

The ancient Chinese attached great importance to the role sleep plays in maintaining health. A Chinese maxim says that replenishing health with medicine is not as good as replenishing health with diet, but that replenishing health with sleep is the best treatment of all.

An important measure of health in TCM is having energy and healthy blood. TCM believes that the body has wondrous abilities to recover and heal itself as long as there is sufficient energy and blood circulating properly.

Our daily activities use up energy and blood and these can be restored with sleep. Good sleep not only helps us maintain our energy throughout the day but also helps us recover from sickness sooner. Those who sleep badly are prone to falling ill more easily.

Ensuring that you have seven to eight hours of good sleep every night should be your target, according to Dr Yuan Canxing, chief physician of Neurology Department of Longhua Hospital attached to Shanghai University of TCM. But for some people, this is difficult.

Sleep is when yin (cold) and yang (hot) energies change and shift inside the body, according to the "Huangdi Neijing" (Medical Classic of Yellow Emperor), one of the fundamental classics of TCM. When yang energy enters yin, people sleep; when yang energy exits yin, people wake. And the heart which governs the spirit (intelligence and thinking) is the organ in charge of the process.

"A healthy heart relies on sufficient blood nourishment and people who have sleep problems usually suffer from inadequacies of the heart," says Dr Yuan. "For most people, this is caused by an unhealthy lifestyle."

Staying up late too often and suffering constant mental stress can lead to latent heart-blood problems. Bad moods like depression and irritation lead to the stagnation of liver energy and prevent energy and blood flowing to heart.

Eating rich food just before going to bed will rob the heart of blood and energy for digestion. And indulging in heavy physical exercise late at night also makes it difficult for the blood to quickly return to the heart from the muscles. Bad habits like these will lead to there being insufficient blood for the heart, making it difficult for the yang energy to enter the yin and resulting in sleeplessness.

Problems with sleeping can be solved simply by adjusting your lifestyle, Dr Yuan says. Sleeplessness in menopause is caused by the natural descent of energy and blood, and may need dietary therapy or medication.

Regulating your biological clock is a first step. Try going to bed before 11pm to guarantee at least seven hours' sleep.

Research also shows that a bedroom with a temperature set at 18-20 degrees Celsius and 60-80 percent humidity in southern cities like Shanghai provides the best environment for the yang energy to enter the yin.

A few mild physical exercises like casual walking can help sleep but intense physical exercise only makes things worse. And of course, do not eat too much before sleeping.

Dr Yuan insists that you empty your mind the moment you take off your day clothes. Do not go over what you have been doing during the day and don't go over your plans for tomorrow. These are bad habits for people with sleep problems.

Chrysanthemums in the room can help relieve sleeplessness caused by the stagnation of liver energy while lavender can help sooth nerves. Just make sure that you are not allergic.

Half lying on your right side is the best position for sleep as it guarantees energy and blood will flow through your body and the sound of your heart beating will not be heard through the sheets.

Dr Yuan suggests fat people avoid lying on their backs in case their airways are put under pressure, and patients with heart disease should avoid lying on their left sides to avoid putting pressure on their hearts.

Sleeping positions

Good sleeping positions ensure energy and blood flow during sleep, and guarantee the efficient replacement of blood and energy. It is natural for people to change position during sleep but try not to stay in the bad positions.

Lying on your back is bad: Your tongue drops back in your throat if you lie on your back and this may block your air passages. This may lead to snoring or difficulties in breathing, especially for fat people. Choking can occur as saliva can flow into your air passages.

Lying on your chest is bad: Your heart will be put under pressure with your weight. It also obstructs the energy and blood circulation throughout the body. It is forbidden for fat people and patients with heart disease.

Lying on one side is bad: Your own weight obstructs energy and blood circulation on the side you rest on. Though it may not be a big problem at first, stagnation of energy and blood problems occur when this position becomes your regular sleeping position. Thrombosis can affect people with this habit especially if they also have problems with hardened arteries.

Half-lying on one side is good: This guarantees energy flows during sleep and relaxed muscles.


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