Would you like to sleep like a baby without taking drugs? Americans spend upwards of 3 billion dollars a year on sleep medications, but to avoid the side effects, there are a number of natural remedies you can try first. To get a good quality night’s sleep, try these 6 tips from my new book Second Spring.
1. Relaxing Rituals to Rest Easy
In Chinese Medicine, nighttime is yin time—or, simply, when the body takes care of itself instead of your desires. Proper sleep is required for your body to repair itself and regenerate. To reach deep, restful sleep, your spirit and heart must be calm. Excessive worry, anxiety, and depression can all disturb the spirit and activate the mind—making it near impossible to fall asleep and stay asleep. Rituals to sooth your spirit and induce a sleep response before bed include soaking your feet in Epson salts for 15 minutes, writing all of your thoughts in a journal to get them out of your head, and practicing relaxation before bed, like the Stress Release meditation below.
2. When Food Disturbs Sleep
When you eat late, you wake up tired. Your body will be busy digesting your dinner while you are trying to sleep, so you won’t feel rested in the morning. Do not eat anything for at least three hours before bedtime. Also, cut back on eating bacon, cheese, chocolate, ham, potatoes, tomatoes, and sausage, especially before bed. These foods contain tyramine, which inhibits neurochemicals like norepinephrine and can cause insomnia. And, of course if you have sleep problems, caffeine should be cut out.
Eat for sleep! Try eating more grains at dinner; carbohydrates tend to make people sleepy. Another snooze snack is a warm cup of milk; because milk is rich in the amino acid tryptophan, it can sometimes aid in deep sleep. Mix in natural vanilla flavoring for a soothing snack. Or if you prefer, eat 1 cup of natural yogurt an hour before bedtime.
3. A Peaceful Place for Sleep
Your sleeping environment makes a huge difference to the quality of your sleep. Do everything you can to create a quiet and cozy atmosphere. Ideally, your bedroom should be located in the quietest area of your home. Keep the décor minimal. Lighting should be dim and any music that is played should be soothing. Research has found that lavender, vanilla, and green apple are among the best scents to help lower anxiety and induce sleep, making these smells a good choice for a scented candle or heated essential oil. Try to limit your pets to outside of the bedroom because their movements will keep with your body from fully relaxing into deep R. E. M. sleep. As much as possible, your bedroom should be only for sleep.
4. Exercise Enables Sleep
People with regular exercise routines often sleep better and have fewer incidents of insomnia than those don’t get regular physical activity. Exercise promotes sleep and improves sleep quality by altering brain chemistry. Exercising moderately for 20 to 30 minutes three times a day, combined with meditation or tai chi in the evening, will not only help you fall and stay asleep, but will also increase the amount of time you spend in R.E.M. sleep. In fact, for some people, exercise alone is enough to overcome sleep problems. Exercise in the morning or afternoon, but do not exercise for at least two hours before bed.
5. Herbs to Sleep Tight
A calming tea before bedtime can ensure a good night’s sleep. Drink valerian or passionflower (or passiflora) tea before bedtime every night for one month. Simply steep 1 to 2 tablespoons of the dried herbs in one cup of hot water and drink just before bed.
Or look for one with the traditional Chinese herbs zizyphus or jujube seed, bamboo shavings, and oyster shell, which soothe the mind and spirit.
You might also try Calm-Fort/Sleep formula with useful herbs like lily bulbs, polygala and turmeric that help manage stress and calm the spirit while relieving restlessness and insomnia.
6. A Sleep-Friendly Meditation
I had one patient with insomnia who also felt anxious and even a little depressed. In addition to acupuncture and herbal therapies, I decided to teach her a stress release meditation that she could do before bedtime to help with her anxiety. I am happy to report that she is now sleeping like a baby.
Try this Stress Release meditation, which works for the majority of my patients who have sleeping problems:
Sit comfortably or lie down on your back. Slow your respiration to deep, abdominal breathing. Utter the word “calm” in your mind with every exhalation. Focus on relaxing each area of your body in sequence, from the top of your head to your toes.
Starting with the top of your head, inhale and then exhale while visualizing your scalp muscles relaxing. Say “calm” in your mind. Repeat this with each body part as you move down through all body parts, front, back, and sides, in succession: your face, throat, chest, arms, stomach, abdomen, thighs, knees, legs, ankles, until finally you reach your feet. When you’ve relaxed your feet, visualize all the tension in your body leaving through your toes as dark smoke. Practice this for at least 15 minutes before bedtime.
It will have you sleeping in no time. If you do better with meditative visualizations that are narrated, try my Stress Release CD.
I hope you find the ways to resting easy and waking up refreshed!
Dr. Maoshing Ni is a doctor of Chinese medicine and an authority in the field of Anti-Aging Medicine. Known simply as ‘Dr. Mao’ to his patients, he has lectured internationally on various topics including women’s health, sleep medicine, longevity medicine, diet and nutrition, herbal therapy, stress management, meditation, lifestyle enhancement, and much more. Click here for more information on Dr. Mao or to access his interview with Dr. Park, 10 Tips for Better Sleep: A Chinese Medicine Doctor’s Perspective.