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Health, Dr. Mao, Editorial

Natural Tips for Deep Sleep

Dr. Mao Shing Ni
Courtesy Photo
Dr. Mao Shing Ni

Dr. Mao's Wellness Central

Posted Feb. 28, 2011, 10:46 pm

Dr. Mao Shing Ni / Mirror Columnist

Would you like to sleep like a baby without needing to rely on drugs? Americans spend upwards of $3 billion a year on sleep medications that can come with heavy side effects. Getting a good night’s sleep or taking a midday nap is one of the best ways to lower stress and prevent heart disease, which is the number one killer of Americans today. Here are some healthy ways to get better sleep and enjoy a longer, healthier life.

1. Relaxing Rituals to Rest Easy

In Chinese Medicine, nighttime is yin time. To put it simply, that’s when the body takes care of itself. Proper sleep is required for your body to repair and regenerate itself. 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 nearly impossible to fall asleep and stay asleep. Rituals to sooth your spirit before bed include soaking your feet in Epson salts for 15 minutes, writing all of your thoughts in a journal, and practicing relaxation.

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 as 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 if you are having ongoing sleep problems, you should definitely eliminate caffeine from your diet.

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 a 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 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. These smells are good choice for a scented candle or heated essential oil. Try to keep your pets outside the bedroom because their movements will keep your body from fully relaxing into deep R.E.M. (Rapid Eye Movement) 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 who 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 tea before going to sleep every night for one month. Steep 1 to 2 tablespoons of the dried herbs in 1 cup of hot water and drink just before bed. Or look for a tea with the traditional Chinese herbs zizyphus or jujube seed, bamboo shavings, and oyster shell, which soothe the mind and spirit.

You might also try my herbal blend Calm-Fort/Sleep, which contains useful herbs like lily bulbs, polygala, and turmeric that help manage stress and calm the spirit while relieving restlessness and supporting peaceful sleep.

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 the tips of 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 narrated meditative visualizations, try my CD, “Meditations for Stress Release.” Both the CD and Calm-Fort/Sleep are available at the Wellness Store or

I hope you find the ways to rest easy and wake up refreshed. May you Live Long, Live Strong, and Live Happy!

Dr. Mao Shing Ni, best known as Dr. Mao, is a bestselling author, doctor of Oriental Medicine and board certified anti-aging expert. He practices acupuncture, nutrition and Chinese medicine with his associates at the Tao of Wellness in Santa Monica, a Wellness Medicine group that won the “L.A.’s Best” Award. Dr. Mao and his brother, Dr. Daoshing Ni founded Tao of Wellness in Santa Monica over 25 years ago. In addition, he is the cofounder and Chancellor of Yo San University in Venice/Marina del Rey. To subscribe to a free newsletter please visit To make an appointment for evaluation and treatment please call 310.917.2200 or you can email Dr. Mao at

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