Improving your sleep

 “I love coming for Reflexology sessions with Jane.  Often I fall asleep during the session and wake up feeling rejuvenated and like I’ve slept soundly for 12 hours!  Overall my sleep has improved significantly thanks to Reflexology”   Viv, April 2018

I regularly treat clients who seek help for improving sleep.  Often poor sleep is linked with stress and anxiety, in the most extreme case I’ve seen, a woman in her 30s was getting less than 2 hours sleep a night.  After a course of 5 weekly Reflexology sessions we were able to manage her anxiety levels, enabling her to achieve a full 10 hours of uninterrupted sleep.   By regulating the body’s natural circadian rhythms and returning each body system to homeostasis, Reflexology takes a holistic approach to addressing the underlying reasons why sleep has become a problem.   

Reflexology for sleep starts by helping the body to clear out toxins – whether these are an accumulation of naturally occurring stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline, or from synthetic pollutants like tobacco, alcohol and some medications. The treatment  boosts the organs which process toxins including the kidneys, liver and lungs we help clear things out.

Next Reflexology aims to regulate the endocrine system and re-balance hormone production by re-setting the brain’s “control panel” (hypothalamus, pituitary and pineal glands).  Further attention is then given to major organs of the body which are under strain, helping them to heal and regenerate so they don’t keep you awake at night.

When clients make the positive step of investing in their health by attending Reflexology sessions I always check they also have good “sleep hygiene”.     Below are some of the top-tips for self-care which are worth incorporating in to your routine alongside Reflexology appointments.

Top Tips for Improving Sleep

Help your central nervous system do its job

Your body’s central nervous system has a crucial role to play in regulating sleep patterns.  Try to activate your para-sympathetic nervous system (“rest and digest”) an hour before bedtime.   Day-to-day stresses and strain means our bodies spend too much time being fuelled by stress hormones like adrenaline and cortisol.  These hormones have their place when you need to be motivated and reactive, but if you find at bedtime that your mind is full, breathing is shallow, throat is dry etc. then it’s a sure sign your sympathetic nervous system (“fight or flight” mode) is too active. Activities like listening to calming music, practising mindful breathing or meditation, doing some simple yoga stretches will all help align your central nervous system to do its job and get restorative sleep. NHS advice has some other handy tips including the finding that sex is a sleep inducing activity…..    

Unplug yourself from electronic devices before bedtime, especially social media.

People who have high use of social media are twice as likely to experience poor sleep than those who are infrequent users.   The advice is to stop using your electronic devices at least 30 minutes before bed time.

The research suggests this is due to a range of factors.  One is that the light which is emitted from screens effects the production of melatonin a chemical made by your brain’s pineal gland whose function is to regulate sleep.    The research also found that the content of what we’re engaging with on-line keeps our minds stimulated in a way which reading or watching TV doesn’t.   

Try to tune in to your body and notice how you feel when browsing the net or engaging in social media. If your heart rate is fast, your mouth feels dry, and you flit between applications or scroll through posts rapidly it’s a sure sign that your sympathetic nervous system is over-activated.  This means your body is producing the wrong type of hormones for getting off to sleep.

Clear your thoughts and only go to bed if you are ready to sleep

Physically writing down what’s on your mind before you go to bed is a useful tip for helping stop your  brain regurgitating persistent or worrying thoughts which might be preventing you falling asleep.  If it sounds too simple, just try it – there’s nothing to lose and everything to gain.

Some of the techniques used in Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) interventions to combat serious insomnia include being very strict about staying in bed only if you are actually sleeping. It is recommended that you get up and do something else rather than staying in bed tossing and turning in the middle of the night.  This will help re-train the brain and body systems to regulate sleep.  CBT also recommends not watching the clock during a sleepless night or tracking sleep using a device - this only leads to worry and frustration which simply makes matters worse.  For more advice on re-programming your mind in relation to sleep you might like to try a new evidence based CBT programme called Sleepio

Understand your body clock and its circadian rhythms

The brain’s circadian clock regulates sleep and lots of other body functions like body temperature, brain wave activity, urine production, cell regeneration, appetite etc.  Melatonin is an important hormone released by the pineal gland in the brain and is nature’s way of communicating to organs across the body to prepare for sleep – for body temperature to decrease, bowel movements to be supressed etc.      Scientific research which was awarded the 2017 Nobel Prize for Medicine showed the genetic component of circadian rhythms and also that there are peripheral body-clocks which can get out of time compared to the master clock in the brain. This resonates with the understanding in Chinese medicine that each organ of body has its own responsibility for regulating sleep and that if someone wakes through the night at specific times then it is likely to be an imbalance in this organ which is the underlying problem.     During your Reflexology sessions we will discuss this further and build up a picture of how your circadian rhythms are influencing sleep.

A further potential consideration we will discuss is what might be effecting your circadian rhythms to make them be out of sync.  For example although many people find that alcohol helps them get off to sleep, remember that your body has to process these toxins during the night.  Regularly waking up in the early hours of the morning can be a sign that your liver is overwhelmed by the detoxing process.  If you need to improve sleep, experiment by not drinking alcohol within 2 hours of bedtime, and reducing the overall amount and frequency of your drinking.