ALWAYS TIRED? BETTER SLEEP IS ON THE WAY
Sans Sleeping Pills, That Is
You got seven hours of sleep every night this week but still wake up feeling tired. The day seems to drag on, it’s hard to focus, and your energy is constantly low. Sound familiar? Lack of quality sleep is a problem for many of us, but before you pop another sleeping pill, consider trying a more natural approach.
Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) centers on holistic approaches to solving many of our physical ailments, including sleep. Through adjusting diet, lifestyle, and mindset habits, better sleep is in closer within reach than you might think! Try these six tips before bed tonight.
Meditation for Sleep
If your sleep troubles lie in a case of an overactive mind, give meditation a try! Meditation is designed to help declutter the mind of distracting thoughts from the past and future to better focus on the present moment. Through deep breathing exercises and an active goal of improving understanding and control over your thoughts rather than letting them control you, it’s possible to calm the mind and body. Creating a peaceful headspace can help you fall asleep more quickly, stay asleep, and wake up feeling better rested.
Up for trying meditation but unsure where to start? In today’s world there are several tools to help you learn more about meditation and start experiencing the benefits quickly. Phone apps for meditation have built-in trainings, logs, guided meditations, soundtracks, and inspirational quotes to help you get comfortable with the process. You can also find guided meditations and calming meditation music on most audio streaming platforms.
If you’d like to practice meditation for sleep in the style of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), try sitting cross-legged with good posture and close your eyes. Take slow, deep breaths in and out through your nose. Try making your inhale and exhale the same length (you can try counting to four in your head to help you get started). Focus your mind on the sensation of the breath and gently push aside any distracting thoughts as they appear. Start with practicing for five minutes before bed, increasing that amount over time.
Adjust Your Diet
Believe it or not, better sleep could be within reach simply by adjusting what you eat! In TCM, foods are known as yin (cooling) or yang (heating) and can influence your overall balance of energy. If you’re struggling with getting quality sleep, chances are you’re probably ingesting a bit too much yang on a regular basis.
But how to tell yin from yang? Foods to avoid include anything with an excess of spice, sweetness, smelliness, or seems like it would be heavy on the stomach. Avoiding caffeine and alcohol is also a good idea. That means it may be in your best interest to skip dessert and that nightcap!
On the flip side, try upping your intake of yin foods. Yin is often found in green or lightly colored foods such as watermelon, bananas, tofu, cucumber, okra, spinach, and green beans. Proteins like pork and fish, are neutral foods and shouldn’t have an effect either way on your sleep.
Herbs and Teas
Long-hailed as the ultimate “sleepy time tea”, chamomile tea is a classic nighttime solution. Chamomile tea has no caffeine and contains ingredients that stimulate certain brain receptors that are in charge of letting your body know when to transition into sleep. If you’re looking for help drifting off to sleep more quickly and with a greater sense of peace, chamomile tea might do the trick.
Another option is brewing tea or taking supplements of ‘suan zao ren’, or jujube fruit. This fruit is known for its ability to increase blood flow to the heart and liver. It also calms imbalances in the liver meridian, which is where insomnia often stems from based on TCM practices. A study on suan zao ren studied the change in sleep quality of 67 participants who took the herb each night before bed. At the end of the four-week study, 73.5% of participants reported noticing an improvement in their sleep.
If chamomile and suan zao ren aren’t quite your cup of tea, consider giving valerian root a try. Valerian is a tall, grassy plant that has been shown to ease insomnia by decreasing the amount of time it takes to fall asleep and helping people stay asleep through the night. The root of this plant contains the strongest sleep benefits, so consider brewing your own tea at home or purchasing tea made directly from the roots. If you are robust and not deficient this tea may paradoxically keep you awake Be sure to consult with a healthcare professional to make sure that the herbs you’re taking are right for you.
Regulate Sleep Patterns
Ever been on such a consistent schedule that you don’t even need an alarm clock to wake up on time? Regulating your sleep patterns might be the simplest way to help you feel more rested each day. The human body loves consistency, so setting a specific time to go to sleep and wake up can help reset and regulate your circadian rhythm- and help you sleep better.
Though it can be difficult, try to stick to your sleep times all seven days of the week. When your internal clock is set and running well, you’ll likely see an impact in your daily energy, mood, and ability to fall asleep more quickly. Be sure to keep any naps you take during the day under 30 minutes, too! Napping too long can actually upset your sleep schedule and cause a less restful night’s sleep.
Tai ji (Tai Chi)
Tai ji (Tai chi) is a traditional Chinese martial art that is designed to help users practice self defense, meditation, and improve overall health. It’s a series of slow and steady stretches and exercises that can be done at each person’s desired pace. Tai chi is often compared to yoga, but it is much less physically demanding on the body and a more gentle form of exercise. Many people consider tai chi to be a moving meditation.
But can tai chi help you sleep better? A 2015 study showed that tai chi was linked to reducing insomnia as well as inflammation. The study divided the 123 subjects into three groups, one participated in cognitive behavioral therapy, the second practiced tai chi, and the third took a class about sleep and insomnia.
After a year of these practices, blood tests revealed that both the groups practicing cognitive behavioral therapy and tai chi had experienced reduced levels of C-reactive protein along with pro-inflammatory cytokines. Both TCM and Western medicine agree that tai chi offers many benefits for improved sleep!
Exercise in the Morning
Many studies have shown that frequent aerobic exercise throughout the week can help you sleep better at night! Whether that means taking a jog around the neighborhood, practicing hot vinyasa yoga, or weight training at the gym, it’s ideal to exercise at least three to four times per week.
But did you know that the time of day you work out can have an impact how well you rest? Exercise increases heart rate and releases endorphins in the body that can make you feel more alert for several hours. Because of this, many advise exercising in the morning. If you can’t make it to the gym first thing, make sure you have at least three hours between the end of your work out and bedtime.
Whether it’s tai chi, or sipping tea, which natural sleep idea are you trying tonight? Share your favorite holistic sleep remedies with us in the comments.