Updated: Jan 16
Every year around mid February, here in Seattle, I see a distinct form of insomnia developing with my patients. (Get some helpful tips—13 of them, as a matter of fact—in our “13 Natural Remedies for Insomnia” blog.) A large number of my patients will begin reporting that they are waking around 4:00 or 5:00 in the morning and having a difficult time getting back to sleep. It is like clockwork, last week over half of my patients reported this.
We like to think that we are somehow separate from the natural rhythms of nature and the universe. It is easy to think so, considering we spend nearly all of our time in climate controlled buildings and vehicles, yet the fact is we are just as connected to the seasonal cycles as the rest of the natural world. Take a look around right now, everything is waking up (at least here in Seattle). The crocuses are blooming, there are buds on many of the trees, some are already beginning to flower. Flocks of migratory birds are beginning to return. It is as if mother nature is slowly banging a drum and gently singing “wake up, wake up!”. Her chant will only get louder over the coming weeks. Days will get longer and warmer, more and more of the natural world will heed her call and arise from winter’s slumber. This year in particular may prove even more arousing as according to the Chinese astrological calendar this is a “wood” year and wood is associated with the spring season.
So the question then is what do we do about it? Really, we have two options: fight it, or embrace it. The alarm is going off, the wake up call has been issued, you can either get out of bed, or hit the snooze and pull the covers over your head. My personal preference is to embrace the seasonal change and wake up early. There is something magical about the pre-dawn hours. This is a great time to get a workout in, perhaps some meditation, or maybe get caught up on emails or any number of other undone items on that endless to-do list.
If, however, you want to fight the natural tendencies, here are some quick tips that can make a difference:
Clean your room: Yes, you read that correctly. The energy of spring time is very active. From a feng-shui perspective there is a lot of energy flow early in the morning in the early spring. That energy needs to flow smoothly through your bedroom. There are plenty of good articles and books on how to feng-shui your bedroom for insomnia so I won’t go into those details in this post. Cleaning any clutter out of your bedroom, and particularly from under your bed, is a great place to start. As the energy becomes active in the early morning, and moves through your room, it bounces off of things, the less things, the less bounce. Imagine a smooth flowing mountain stream flowing through your room. In the morning hours that energetic stream is going to rise and move faster. You want it to continue to flow easily and not become a raging rapid as it bounces off all the clutter in your room. If the clutter is under your bed, guess where the big wave and whirlpools are going to develop? No wonder you can’t sleep. So a few moments removing clutter can make a suppressing difference in your ability to sleep longer.
Eat a little extra protein before bed: The natural tendencies in the spring are to come out of hibernation and eat. It is not just our brains that ware waking early, or digestive systems are also wanting to get the day started. One way to offset this tendency is by eating a protein rich snack before bed. Avoid carbohydrates as the spike and subsequent drop in blood glucose levels will cause its own set of problems. Some good options here would be a hard boiled egg, a hand full of almonds or other nuts or perhaps a lean piece of meat such as some turkey breast.
Try herbs and Acupuncture: Most patients respond well to the combination of acupuncture and herbal formulas for insomnia. For waking early, there is one herb in particular that stands above the rest, caulis Polygoni multiflori or Fleeceflower Vine. In Chinese herbalism this herb’s name is Ye Jiao Teng which translates roughly as “through the night vine”. That name really sums up this herb’s action. Ye jao teng does not so much help you fall asleep, it helps you stay asleep, through the night. There are any number of good herbal remedies for sleep, and I find adding a good dose of ye jiao teng to any of these formulas will help the patient sleep deeper and longer. I always recommend working with a qualified herbalist before taking herbs for sleep to make sure you are getting a formula that is both safe and effective for your individual needs.
Increase your activity level: The springtime energy is one of action and movement. By embracing this we can help put ourselves into alignment with natural flow of things. Indeed, this is a great time to get stuff done. I tell my patients to make new year’s resolutions, but don’t act on them until after the Chinese new year.
Why? January 1st is nearly the peak of winter. Nothing is moving, everything is in a bit of suspended animation, making it a particularly difficult time to get started on anything. Right now, however, the timing is perfect. The springtime energetic engine is just getting warmed up and just waiting for you to press the accelerator. So go ahead, get busy, get active, wear yourself out a bit, and as a result, see if you don’t find yourself sleeping a bit longer each morning.