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Chinese Medicine Tips for Better Sleep

Schisandra Berry

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Wu Wei Zi, or schisandra berry, has been used in Chinese Medicine for thousands of years. Sweet and slighty sour, it is a very effective sleeping aid. Without causing the grogginess associated with melatonin, schisandra helps the body relax and get some much needed rest. There isn’t one drug, supplement or herb that is perfect for everyone, but schisandra works for a large number of people. It tends to work best for those who wake frequently in the night as opposed to those who have trouble falling asleep. Because it is astringent, schisandra is also good for those who wake frequently to use the bathroom. Schisandra berry extracts can be found at natural food markets, Whole Foods or online. 

Eating an Early Dinner

Eating right before bed is a very common cause of poor sleep. If the body has work to do, how can it rest? While you may fall asleep, you will most likely wake up feeling very heavy and groggy. This is because you never went into a deep sleep. The food you ate will also digest poorly and slow down your metabolism. It’s best to eat dinner around seven. Giving 2-3 hours of space between dinner and sleep will vastly improve your quality of sleep. 

Lower Abdominal Breathing

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Abdominal breathing is a core practice in Qi Gong. There are multiple muscles associated with respiration. We often use the inter-costal muscles to expand the ribcage in order to fill the lungs with air. We tend to breathe this way when we are anxious or stressed. However, the best way to breathe is by causing the diaphragm to descend. This causes the lungs to expand downward and fill with air. This is the type of breathing we naturally do when we are relaxed and feeling safe.

Diaphragm breathing is beneficial for a variety of reasons. First, it is the most efficient way to fill the entire lungs. Chest breathing fills only the top part of the lungs, leaving a lot of air to stagnate in the bottom half. Secondly, the stomach lies just below the diaphragm. Abdominal breathing helps the stomach churn our food and promotes digestion. Lastly, breathing with the diaphragm promotes a calm and relaxed feeling and is great for helping turn off the nerves associated with the stress response.

If you are having trouble sleeping, simply expand the abdomen in order to take in air. You can see if you are doing this correctly by placing a hand on your chest and a hand on your stomach. Your chest should not rise at all and your stomach should rise more than normal. This is a good general practice but is especially helpful for difficulty falling asleep.

Meditation

Meditation is vital for our quality of life and it is a very effective way to help you sleep. Just like our body must purge the waste products of metabolism, our mind needs to release the mental activities of daily life. For many, meditation can seem like a daunting task. Like any thing worthwhile, it takes practice. To be able to truly turn the mind off takes months or even years of dedication. However, you are still going to benefit even if your mind is racing while you meditate. How often do we simply sit and let our mind wander? Eventually, it gets easier to turn the thoughts off, but simply sitting with our thoughts is helpful too.

 One simple meditation technique that I highly recommend is to observe your breathing. Feel the air as it enters and exits your nostrils. Feel the cool air as you breathe in and the warm air as you breathe out. Focus only on the sensation you feel in the nostrils. This is helpful in order to really focus the mind on one sensation. Doing this for 15 minutes before bed can help you ease into sleep. The more you do, the better it is. Start with 10 to 15 minutes and build up from there.

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