The Sleep and Health Benefits of Qigong
If you’re having trouble sleeping lately, you’re not alone. Studies show insomnia disrupts the sleep and daily lives of up to 30% of adults in the U.S.
According to Johns Hopkins, untreated chronic sleep loss can lead to an increased risk of diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, and stroke.
Many people turn to prescription medications to treat insomnia, which can trigger next-day grogginess and other adverse side effects. But there's an ancient remedy called qigong (pronounced “chee gong”) that can help combat insomnia naturally.
Qigong is appropriate for all fitness levels and can be practiced by adults of all ages with no special equipment needed. This article will explore qigong, its many sleep and health benefits, and how to add it to your daily routine.
What is qigong?
Qigong is a form of “movement meditation” that has been practiced in China for thousands of years. “There are over 3,000 forms of qigong that people may be familiar with, the most popular one called tai chi,” says David J. Coon, a medical qigong master and author of Qigong for Beginners: Your Path to Greater Health & Vitality.
Coon explains that millions of people in China practice qigong daily as a form of preventive medicine or in the hopes of curing cancer and other illnesses. "It is a form of exercise that emphasizes breathing and conscious movement along with light stretches and toning of certain sounds,” he says.
Benefits of qigong for sleep and health
Several studies have concluded that a regular practice of qigong touts many health benefits, such as lowering blood pressure and easing symptoms of anxiety and depression while boosting bone health, balance, and sleep quality.
Researchers have identified high levels of a certain type of damaging inflammatory markers (interleukin-1 beta and interleukin-6) present in individuals suffering from chronic stress and sleep disturbances. One study published in the journal Sleep found qigong significantly improved the sleep quality of study participants by reducing levels of these slumber-stealing inflammatory markers.
Coon shares a unique perspective when recommending qigong for insomnia: “Most people claim they have low energy caused by not sleeping well," he says. "In fact, the opposite is actually true. People don’t sleep well because they have low energy.”
He explains that the human body is like a battery and has the ability to hold a charge. “But when you feel tired all the time and are not sleeping well, your energy becomes depleted," he says. "Qigong is the perfect antidote because it recharges your energy (chi), which is your life force.”
The more we deplete our subtle energy (chi) with artificial energy enhancers, such as caffeine, sugar, or nicotine, says Coon, the harder it is to get a good night's sleep since deep sleep requires high-quality subtle energy. “Exposure to computer screens, cell phones, and TV sets also drain our subtle vital energy, and this cycle prevents the body from resting and repairing itself,” he adds.
How to make qigong part of your daily routine
Coon says one of the great benefits of qigong is that it’s easily practiced by people who have health issues or injuries or those who may have a hard time doing more strenuous exercise. “I always say that just five minutes a day is excellent," he says. "If someone does more…great!”
If you’re interested in making qigong a regular practice, you can take in-person or online classes with a qualified instructor. “Use your own discernment and find an instructor you enjoy who teaches practices that make you feel better,” Coon advises.
Watch Coon’s quick five-minute workout video above featuring the “waterfall” exercise you can do before bed. “If it’s done slowly and calmly, this is an excellent subtle energy-building practice that promotes better sleep,” Coon says.
And to wake up in the morning? He suggests doing the same exercise a little quicker (as shown in the video) and making the “shhh” sound on the exhale. “This will wake you up, invigorate you, and increase your ability to focus," he says.
You can find more instructional videos on his website, Qigong Awareness. Coon co-founded his practice in North Carolina with his wife, Tanya, an acupuncturist. They regularly hold workshops, online education, and certification classes in qigong and medical qigong instruction.
Is it good to do qigong before bed?
The gentle exercises shown in the video above are a few good examples of ones to do before bedtime. Exercises that involve more movement and more breath are better done in the morning or during the day rather than right before bed.
How long does it take qigong to work?
In many cases, the healing effects of qigong can be felt immediately. Let’s take the waterfall exercise as an example. “This can be practiced any time of the day and used as a preventive measure to build your reserves and ward off daily stressors,” Coon shares. “Some qigong practitioners use this exercise to lower their blood pressure while at the doctor’s office.”
What are at least three benefits of qigong?
- Reduces stress: “Qigong is a unique exercise because it’s also a form of meditation and it synchronizes mind, body, and breath,“ says Coon. It helps relieve stress and can alleviate many common heath challenges, such as high blood pressure. “Calming the mind leads to relaxation that helps with sleep patterns," adds Coon.
- Boosts immunity: “A regular practice of qigong revives balance and harmony to all of the bodily systems,” Coon shares. “This not only energizes the body but helps it restore health and vitality, increase white blood cells, and in turn activates the body’s innate healing wisdom.”
- Other qigong benefits include increased energy, better sleep, and pain management. "Remember that where your mind goes, your chi flows,” says Coon.
The bottom line: “More than eight million people enjoy qigong practice every day because it works,” says Coon.
Reflexology is another ancient wellness practice that could improve your snooze. Here's more on the sleep and health benefits of reflexology.