Lori Earley is a licensed acupuncturist practicing at her clinic, Phoenix Rising Integrative Medicine, in Houston, Texas. After years of firsthand experience with clinical depression, anxiety, and insomnia, she left the pharmaceutical industry to pursue a masters degree in Traditional Chinese Medicine at ACAOM. She now specializes in Emotional Health, and is dedicated to healing others who are facing the same struggles she once experienced.
Here's part of her journey to Chinese Medicine, and the lessons she's learned to help her and her patients sleep better.
Here’s my personal story with Ambien. I was first prescribed Ambien when I was only in my early 20’s. I was in a corporate sales job, where looking back, I was overworked and utterly running on fumes. Instead of laying my head down and falling asleep, my body and mind were so overstimulated at night that I would lie awake and overthink until the sun came up. Eventually, this lead to a severe sleep disorder, where I was prescribed Ambien to help me sleep. At one point early in my corporate career, a doctor prescribed a stimulant to keep me awake during the day while I was taking Ambien at night.
Needless to say, I ended up being dependent on Ambien for over 10 years. Each time I tried to get off of it, I would go one, two, sometimes three days with no sleep. At that time in my life, I did not know there were other options. Only when I went to school to become a Chinese Medical Practitioner did I learn that I could use herbal therapy and acupuncture to help rid my dependence of Ambien and give me a good night of restful sleep. It took months to get off of Ambien, but acupuncture and herbs worked. Now, I sleep restfully, without need for sleep aids.
In a survey published last summer conducted by Sleep Cycle, a popular mobile app that analyzes users’ sleep pattern, the current pandemic has profoundly impacted sleep and mental health for people worldwide. Similarly, The Washington Post reported that “physicians and researchers are seeing signs that [the pandemic] is doing deep damage to peoples’ sleep.” The term “Coronasomnia” has now emerged to describe this pattern, along with the associated declines in productivity, shorter “mental fuses” and increased risks associated with stress. And the truth is, we need to care more about sleep than ever before as there's no immunity support as powerful as a good night of sleep.
Unfortunately, there is little help that modern medicine can offer. Pharmaceuticals, such as Ambien, are often first-line therapies, but these medications often have serious short and long-term side effects and can be both mentally and physically addictive.
There are natural ways to help ease insomnia and promote restful sleep, one of which is acupuncture. In fact, although the natural ways may not work as quickly as popping a pill, they are effective, with no side effects. I suggest a combination of the following:
1. No caffeine in the afternoon.
Well, here I am stating the obvious, but I see if all the time with my patients. Often times, we have these dips in the afternoon (between 1-3 pm) where you feel to need for coffee or tea; however, this just perpetuates the problem and adds to poor sleep. It is also indicative that your adrenals are frazzled and in need of some serious nourishment.
2. Eat your meals before 7pm.
Eating your meals earlier in the evening allows your digestive system adequate time to do its job before you head off to sleep. Also, eating late at night can cause restless sleep and vivid dreams, which means you wake feeling unrested and unrefreshed.
3. Refrain from the evening alcoholic beverage.
Many people, including a good portion of my patients, enjoy a glass of wine or alcoholic beverage to help ease them into sleep. Unfortunately, this takes a tremendous toll on your hard-working liver. Sleep is the time when the body restores itself, but if other organ systems are working overtime, then sleep is going to be unfulfilling and the end result is waking up feeling unrested and overly exhausted. This thereby leads to the need for caffeine in high doses. It’s an endless, perpetuating cycle.
4. Modify your diet.
Food is medicine. This can be an entirely different blog post, or even a series of books; however, know that by modifying your diet, so many positive changes can occur, such as hormonal balance, reduced stress and anxiety, and a boost in mood and energy. Naturally. So, it is best to cut out the inflammatory goods, such as sugar, dairy, processed foods, and fried foods. Also, eat organic. These days, if you are not eating organic foods, then you are likely getting flooded with exogenous hormones, which throws off your entire physiology. Eat clean: fresh, organic fruits and vegetables, organic meats, very minimal grains.
5. Choose herbal teas or formulas over pharmaceuticals.
If you want to stop the craziness of poor sleep and lethargic days, then Chinese Herbal Medicine has great natural solutions.
Chinese Medicine views all conditions through a different lens than does Western Medicine. For Chinese Medicine practitioners, we need more than just a diagnosis of “insomnia” to really know what is going on. Like a detective, we uncover the underlying causes of insomnia, or whatever the condition may be. For this reason, it is always best to seek a professional’s care when wanting to use herbal therapy. The underlying cause determines what herbal formula is appropriate, which is often a difficult concept for patients to understand because when they go to the doctor with insomnia, nearly everyone walks out with the same basic prescription. You can learn a bit more about different types of insomnia from a Chinese Medicine perspective here.
6. Acupuncture for Insomnia.
Just as herbal therapy is highly individualized towards each patient’s constitutional patterns, so too is acupuncture. A licensed acupuncturist will evaluate the patient to determine the underlying cause and treat accordingly. Of course, there are many things to consider, such as hormonal imbalances, current medications, other secondary conditions, such as depression, pain, or pregnancy, and more.
The advantage acupuncture has over all of these other therapies, however, is that acupuncture actually works with the body’s nervous system to help reset and balance the sleep cycles. With each acupuncture treatment, the nervous system is taken out of the sympathetic state (alert, tense, fight or flight) and switched to the parasympathetic state (rest, restore and regulate). So, with each acupuncture treatment, the body resets to the calm and focused state is, and it is only when the body is able to settle into the parasympathetic state, then sleep can be restful and restorative.
Just as acupuncture puts you in the right state of mind, so too does meditation. For those who are inexperienced, meditation can feel overwhelming in the beginning. After all, how do you force your mind to calm down when it’s completely overactive and running in a hundred directions at once? The best way to start, in my opinion, is through guided meditation, which is easily accessible these days with Youtube and apps like Calm. Oh, my kids love this app, and now bedtime is a breeze for them.
At Phoenix Rising Acupuncture, we work with clients to develop the best treatment plan that fits their needs. Typically, a series of acupuncture treatments, herbal tea or formulas, and nutritional guidance are created to give each patient their individualized care.