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Quieting The Mind At Night


Raise your paw if you can relate to Gizmo. Okay....maybe you can't relate to ruminating about not being able to catch the elusive glowing green dot, but maybe you can relate to ruminating about anything, and maybe everything, at night.


According to a study in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine, chronic insomnia affects around 30% of the population. One form of insomnia involves waking at night between 1:00am and 3:00am with the mind racing. This presentation of insomnia is one of the most common symptoms I've seen with patients who have varying levels of stress. To get a bit technical from a Chinese medicine point of view, circadian rhythms are such that the Liver organ (also known as the Wood Yin organ in Five Element Theory) activity may be amplified between 1:00am and 3:00am. The wood element has a huge influence on the smooth flow of Qi, and if the Liver is overtaxed in any way (perhaps from stress, toxins, alcohol, etc.), the flow of Qi can become disrupted, which can then lead to a Liver Yin Deficiency, which can lead to Liver Yang Excess, and worse case scenario can lead to Liver Fire Blazing. At any point along that journey towards Liver Fire Blazing, symptoms like waking up between 1:00am and 3:00am and ruminating about the project you're working on, the person who ticked you off, the laundry that's overflowing or whatever else can occur.


So what can you do when you're wide awake staring at your ceiling in the middle of the night?


1. Breathe Deeply. Turn onto your back, close your eyes, place one hand just above your belly button and your other hand just below your belly button and breathe slowly and deeply for as long as you can. For some, this alone will help do the trick. If not...


2. Change Your Thoughts. If you're catching yourself thinking about the same thing over and over again, consciously change your thoughts. Try imagining yourself in your favorite place, like a calm beach in the Caribbean, on a hiking trail in Sedona, or whatever speaks to you and gives you relaxing thoughts. Think about all the things that you love about that place such as the smell of the air, the ground below your feet, the views, the sounds. You might find yourself drifting back to the thing you were thinking about before, so keep bringing yourself to your favorite place. If you keep drifting back towards ruminating...


3. Read. Keep the lights as dim as you can, but pick up a calming book and start reading. I really like Jhumpa Lahiri's short story books. I find her stories to be poignant but written in such a way that is easy and relaxing. The plots are not overly complicated and the stories I've read are not fast paced but don't drag either. Read until you feel calmer and tired, and then go back to bed. But if you're reading and your mind is still racing...


4. Write It Out. Grab a notebook and a pen and start writing down your thoughts as they come to you. Don't worry about writing neatly or even legibly. The purpose of this activity is not to go back and process what you've written but to help your brain process your thoughts as you write them out. Once you feel tired and your mind feels finished from ruminating, go back to bed. If what you're thinking about is particularly stressful, set a timer on your phone for no longer than 15 minutes. It can be easy to let "lost" in writing it out and the chances of spiraling can increase if time boundaries aren't set in advance. If you find yourself spiraling, it's time to speak to your therapist to help you process your thoughts.


5. Acupuncture. If waking in the middle of the night is a regular thing for you, consider getting weekly acupuncture treatment for a month or two. This is a pattern that acupuncture can change with repeated treatment.

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