Preparing for sleep, all day long.
We’ve all experienced the feeling of restlessness when going to bed or suddenly waking up in the middle of the night with an urge to use the washroom. Have you ever stopped to ask yourself what your body is trying to communicate or furthermore, how this deep biological need is impacting you in every moment of your next day?
Dr. Dominique Vallee, former Canadian Olympic Snowboarder, is now a Doctor of Traditional Chinese Medicine in Vancouver and has made it her life’s work to answer the calls from the human body and restore our state of Qi in harmony and balance. I sat down with Dr. Vallee to educate myself on why she goes beyond the use of stethoscopes and pharmaceuticals and into the world of pulse reading, needles, smoke and herbs when it comes to getting some quality shut eye.
When our body loses its state of balance, the pain we experience as a result is tied to our emotional state and vice versa.
How did you get into the field of Traditional Chinese Medicine?
My previous chapter as an athlete granted me the ability to tap into the power of the mind & body connection. More importantly, I came to understand that I could use my thoughts to navigate my emotional state by turning inward. From mentally rehearsing a trick over and over again before I'd perform it, to visualizing my body as healed when I was injured.
My first exposure to TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine) was when my father sought it out for a chronic condition. As a child I can remember accompanying my father to see what I affectionately referred to as the the old-wise-yoda doctor. He inspected every ridge of my father’s tongue, counted the beats of his pulse and somehow, seemed to know everything about his wellness! Dad would come home and boil his prescribed herbs, and I would marvel as he got better.
My journey into medicine continued when my mother, in 2008, was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. I entrenched myself in the study of TCM because it filled – what I observed to be – a gap in the medical system where only the “issue” in question was being treated as opposed to the root. Chinese Medicine allowed for an individualized approach that looked at the body as a whole; mind, body, spirit.
Why is sleep so important?
Simply put, our body needs sleep in order to process processes and assimilate the happenings of our day. It’s also when we regenerate, heal, and cleanse our bodies. In my research, it’s proven to be the most important part of our day. I liken sleep to giving ourselves the gift of a mini spa vacation every night—the body needs down time in order to perform at its peak.
Can you tell us about the Body Clock and why it’s so relevant to sleep?
The body clock is a tool to set yourself up for an energetic day and to have a restful regenerative sleep. Traditional Chinese Medicine is principally governed by the rhythms and cycles of nature. It treats the body as a whole, and invites us into a holistic lifestyle as opposed to seeking support only once the body has started to fall out of balance. In this field there is a foundational belief that all living beings are balanced by polarities—dark and light, cold and hot, wakefulness and sleeping. The Body Clock, in Chinese Medicine, is a way of living every day by interpreting of our hormonal cycle in a 24 hour clock. It is based on the theory that our past affects our present and our present affects our future. This means that rituals in the morning can affect our day, and our day has a significant impact on our sleep.
Not only does it matter how much sleep you get but when you get it—sleep quality and restorative benefits are best achieved when sleeping between 10pm and 2am.
During sleep, how can we know when our body/ organs are trying to talk to us?
The best-case scenario for our bodies is that we fall asleep within 20–minutes from the time we’ve closed our eyes, and wake up in the morning without any sleep interruption. People who struggle to fall asleep for hours are often impacted by overdoing, worrying, studying, or working. This type of overdrive can lead the body into a state of adrenal fatigue. According to the body clock, there are specifically dedicated hours in our sleep cycles where our organs restore themselves. If you find yourself awake between the hours of 1:00am-3:00am, it’s often a message from our liver. This organ is impacted by stress and impacts our ability to process even the smallest daily stressors, busy life events or excess alcohol. If you’re waking up around 3:00am-5:00am these are the governing hours for lung restoration which can be interrupted if we’re processing grief, sadness, and immune system related issues.
Our quality of sleep mirrors our quality of life.
How can we prepare our bodies for sleep all day long?
Everyone is different but if you’re having trouble falling asleep or staying asleep, organizing your day for a good night's rest is a must. Doing so sets the body up to better cope when life gets busy and complicated.
My best advice is to always give yourself time by waking up early—let’s say 6:00am. Drink warm water upon waking to hydrate and kickstart your metabolism, followed by some light stretching or yoga, breathing and/or meditation. Have a light breakfast around 7:00am-8:00am. If you enjoy vigorous exercise, a good time to do this is from 7:00 am-11:00am. This is because our bodies emit the most amount of cortisol and reach their peak energy levels at this time. Mornings are a time for productivity and getting as much work done as possible.
Our energy levels start to decline after 1:00pm-2:00pm—for most people this is right after lunch. A decline in energy levels is actually a good thing because it’s a sign that you’ve had a productive morning which allows your body to coast into the afternoon in a more restful state. Ideally, we should aim to be home around 5:00pm as this is a time for our kidneys and adrenals to restore themselves. This is a time to be gentle and wind down for the day. It’s also an ideal time to enjoy an early dinner of warm, nourishing food. This gives us plenty of time to rest and digest so that we can start dimming the lights to support melatonin production around 7:00pm-8:00pm. At this point in our evening, it is best recommended that all blue light emitting devices be tucked away as this can inhibit the production of melatonin and delay us in getting a restorative sleep. If you can be in bed by 9:00pm-9:30pm, this syncs you up nicely to start getting your most restorative, regenerative sleep from 10:00pm to 2:00am. These hours are when our body goes through a process of detoxification, restoration and regeneration. Our immune system gets boosted, and our body as a whole heals. This is also a time where the brain sorts and classifies information while forming new pathways in the process.
You’re more likely to feel far better when sleeping from 10:00pm-5:00am as opposed to 12:00am-7:00am. As adults we need between 8-9 hours of sleep.
How can we tell if we are getting quality sleep?
Life gets busy—I get it! Children, family, work, and peers can demand so much of us. Even amidst all the noise and chaos, I do believe that we are more intuitive than we let ourselves believe. You'll see how you’ve slept if upon waking you feel rested and full of life and energy. It’s as simple as turning inward and asking your body how it feels. Nowadays we’re graced by technology and phone apps that can track our sleep. Although technology has helped us in modern advancements, what I can say is that it doesn't take into account our emotional state or how we’re feeling. Getting back to our most natural instincts is key to living our most natural and balanced life.