3 tips for getting better quality sleep during pregnancy and beyond, TCM-style.
Sleep--what an indulgence it has become for all of you mamas. I am merely a mom to be, and I am beginning to realize already that growing a baby, even one that’s still marinating in the belly, can be a real challenge to our precious sleep patterns. But, knowing what I know about the importance of sleep, and how it affects us spiritually, I am trying my best to get as much rest as I possibly can.
As a practitioner of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), I have the luxury of practicing a medicine that is not only technical and solution-oriented but also beautifully spiritual. And, sleep is one of those aspects of life that is not only insanely important and restorative but also very telling and diagnostic from a TCM perspective.
In TCM, we see sleep as a representation of our spirit. By this I mean, our spirit—the part of us that interacts with the world all day long, mentally and emotionally—affects and is affected by our sleep. As the beautiful analogy in TCM explains, our spirit rests in our hearts at night. If our spirit isn’t finding rest, then our bodies are not being replenished and restored and our spirit—our emotional state—will suffer. In TCM, we see the heart as being a warm and cozy bed, which should be inviting to the spirit so that it can sleep and restore each night while we sleep.
However, if the heart is encumbered by stress or negative emotions it becomes rigid and inhospitable and we will therefore experience restless, fitful and unfulfilling sleep. To quote a TCM theory:
“Prolonged emotional strain and unresolved emotional issues impact the heart. When a person is overwhelmed with worry, resentment, craving or other intense emotions, the heart has no room for the spirit. The spirit flies away and the radiance of present awareness no linger illuminates the person’s life.”
So what does all this mean? Of course, life happens, and sleep can become limited in supply. However, even if we aren’t getting as much sleep as we once did, we should still work towards having peaceful and restorative sleep. We should still be aware of the hospitality of our hearts. This entails finding a way to clear your heart of negative emotion and worry so that you can entice your spirit to rest in your heart and thereby sleep—even if for less time than you’d like—in a way that replenishes not only your energy but your spirit.
Here are my top three recommendations for creating a more hospitable and peaceful heart:
1. Meditate. I know, I know—who has time for meditation?! I hear you. Believe me. And, I don’t even have a kid running around just yet. But… you can try to steal a few minutes each day for some deep, cleansing, spirit settling breathing. Even if it’s only a 3-5 minutes. Set the alarm on your phone (or download a meditation app like Headspace) and sneak away into a quiet space (even a bathroom stall works!) and breathe. Clear your mind, let go of pent up emotions, feel your body and just be.
2. Express. By this I mean: don’t hold stuff in. Let it out. Even if only in an email or a letter you write to yourself. Express your emotions. Holding things in only leads to a more rigid heart and a restless spirit. Express don’t repress—your peace hinges upon it.
3. Be Kind To You. Yes, first and foremost, be nice to the most important person in your life—YOU! Especially as mothers—or moms-to-be—we need to practice self love and kindness if only as a way to demonstrate to our children how imperative it is to love yourself first and foremost. Take time each day—a few seconds—to say something nice and kind to YOU. And tune into that judgmental voice in your head and challenge it. For every not so nice thing you say to yourself, respond with something softer and more loving. When I am in my head, being hard on myself, I’ll often remind myself, “Aimee you are doing the best you can do right now and I love you.” Try it, it feels so good!
Your heart longs to be warm, soft, open, loving and hospitable. It yearns to be free of emotional constraint and negativity. Support your health, your emotional state and your sleep by freeing yourself of worry and stress. Instead, shift your focus to all the good that surrounds you, and you will experience more restful and restorative sleep.