Insomnia: Natural Treatments

By Dr. Mao Shing Ni


We’ve all suffered from occasional sleeplessness. When the turning and tossing in bed become more frequent, and begin to affect energy and mental clarity during the day, sleeplessness is called insomnia. Insomnia includes difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep, early-morning awakening, and unrefreshing sleep. These kinds of poor sleep patterns affect almost two out of three Americans – that’s a lot of people lying awake at night! People who suffer from insomnia tend to complain of memory problems, lack of concentration, depression, and the inability to be effective at work.


As it becomes a chronic condition, insomnia can increase the risk of Insomniadeveloping cardiovascular disease, gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), chronic pain, stress and anxiety, depression, and alcohol and drug abuse. Likewise, these same conditions can be the causes of lying awake at night. Other contributing factors include pregnancy, menopause, and sleep apnea - a condition in which one stops breathing and awakens gasping for air throughout the night. Insomnia can also be one of many symptoms of a neurological disease that requires medical attention.


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 and your liver and spleen networks must work together to process nutrients. Excessive worry, anxiety, and depression all affect the delicate balance of the liver, spleen, and heart, causing disturbances to the spirit and activating the mind. Once the mind is active, it becomes harder to fall asleep. No wonder infomercials do so well in the middle of the night!


Insomnia is one of the most common conditions I see. Typical of my patients with insomnia was a woman in her late forties who was perimenopausal and complaining of hot flashes, night sweats, and difficulty falling and staying asleep. She also felt depressed and anxious. After treating her with acupuncture and herbal therapies for four months, her hot flashes and night sweats disappeared. Her sleep improved dramatically, although occasionally she still had a hard time falling asleep, so I taught her a stress-release meditation to do before bedtime to help calm her anxiety. She is now sleeping like a baby.


Related conditions: indigestion and heartburn, low energy


Here’s some advice that may help you sleep like a baby, or a log- whichever your prefer.






  1. Choose wholesome foods with no preservatives, additives, or artificial flavors or colors. Food coloring can cause hyperactivity in children.
  2. Do not eat anything for at least three hours before bedtime.
  3. Diet for insomnia: bananasInclude ample leafy green vegetables, whole grains, and low-acidic food in your diet. Eat plenty of asparagus, avocados, apricots, bananas, broccoli, brown rice, figs, salmon, soy products, mulberries, basil, dill, and all types of squash.
  4. Since carbohydrates tend to make us sleepy, eating a grain-based meal for dinner can be helpful. A cup of warm milk rich in the amino acid tryptophan before bed can also be helpful.
  5. Avoid coffee, soft drinks, tea, chocolate, candy, or dessert, drinks with artificial sweeteners, foods with preservatives and MSG, spicy foods, and hard-to-digest foods.





  1. Plain Yogurt: eat 1 cup plain yogurt for insomniaof plain yogurt an hour before bedtime. It contains a rich supply of tryptopham an amino acid essential in the production of helpful neurochemicals to aid sleep.[7]
  2. Epsom salt: soak your feet in a hot Epsom salt bath for 15 minutes before bedtime to produce a relaxation response.
  3. Sleep Journal: keep a journal at night to empty thoughts from your mind before bedtime and take the burdens off of your mind for a more peaceful sleep.
  4. Meditate for 15 minutes before bedtime to settle your mind.





  1. Calcium, Magnesium 5-htp for insomniaCalcium (1,000 milligrams), magnesium (500 milligrams), phosphorus (800 milligrams), potassium (25 milligrams), and vitamin B complex and E (800 IU) supplementation can help improve sleep.
  2. The amino acid compounds 5HTP (200 milligrams) and inositol[8] (1,000 milligrams) act as precursors to neurotransmitters for sleep.
  3. Supplementing with melatonin (1 gram) can help counter insomnia.





Herbs can be found in health food or vitamin stores, online, and at the offices of Chinese medicine practitioners. Herbs should be used according to individual needs; consult with a licensed practitioner for a customized formulation.

  1. Herbal Tea: drink valerian [4]or passionflower tea before bedtime every night for 1 month, or until sleep improves.chinese herbal formula for sleep and relaxation
  2. A Traditional Chinese herb formula used for peaceful sleep and relaxation includes Jujube Seeds, Coral Lily Bulbs, Wild Yam Root, Rehmannia Tuber, Anemarrhena Root, Wild Chrysanthemum Flower, Henon Bamboo Stem, Wild Turmeric Root Tuber, Fo-Ti Leaf & Stem, Polygala Root, Licorice Root & Rhizome.





People with regular exercise routines have fewer episodes of insomnia, and those who suffer from insomnia often are not very physically active. Exercise promotes sleep and improves sleep quality by altering brain chemistry. Exercising moderately for 20 to 30 minutes 3 times a week, 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 REM sleep. For some people exercise alone is sufficient for overcoming sleep problems. Exercise in the morning or afternoon but not close to bedtime.



Insomnia Stress Release Meditation:

Below is a stress-release meditation that I teach my patients.[6] (Many people report falling asleep to this meditation as I narrate it on a CD. I try to take that as a compliment.)

stress release meditation dvdSit comfortably or lie down on your back. Slow your respiration to deep, abdominal breathing.

• Say the word “calm” in your mind with every exhalation.

• You’ll be visualizing the relaxation of a body part and releasing tension with every exhalation. Trace the following 3 pathways outlined below.


1. First pathway – down the front of the body: start at the top of your head. Inhale, and then exhale and visualize your scalp muscles relaxing. Say “calm” in your mind. Repeat this, saying the word with each body part as you move down through your face, throat, chest, abdomen, thighs, knees, calves, ankles, and feet. When you’ve relaxed your feet, visualize all the tension in your body leaving through your toes in the form of dark smoke.

2. Second pathway – down the sides of the body: start at the temple region of your head. This pathway focuses on the sides and upper extremities. Inhale, then exhale and visualize your temple muscles relaxing. Say the word “calm” in your mind. Repeat this, saying the word with each body part as you move down through your jaw, the sides of your neck, shoulders, upper arms, elbows, forearms, wrists, and hands. Once you’ve relaxed your hands, visualize all the tension leaving your body through your fingertips in the form of dark smoke.

3. Third pathway – down the back of the body: the final pathway begins at the back of your head. This path relaxes the back of your body. Repeat the breathing visualization- word routine, as above, as you go from the back of your neck to your upper back, middle back, lower back, back of thighs, calves, and heels. Then focus on the acupoint Bubbling Spring , on the soles of your feet, for 1 minute.


• Practice this meditation for at least 15 minutes twice daily, and once before bedtime.





  1. Find the acupoint Inner Gate (P-6),self-acupressure point 1 for insomnia: P-6, Inner Gate three finger-widths above the wrist crease, between the two tendons on inside of the left forearm. Apply moderate pressure with your right thumb. Hold for 5 minutes. Repeat on the right arm. This may help calm the spirit, and therefore improve sleep.
  2. Locate the acupointself-acupressure point 2 for insomnia: H-7, Gate of Spirit Gate of Spirit (H-7), on the palm side of your left hand at the end of the wrist crease below the little finger. Apply moderate pressure with your right thumb. Hold for 5 minutes. Repeat on left hand. This strengthens the heart- small intestine network and calms the spirit, thus aiding sleep.


It is especially beneficial to do acupressure on these acupoints an hour before bedtime.





  1. Avoid pain medications that contain caffeine, such as Anacin and Excedrin, and prescription diet pills,
  2. Avoid anabolic steroids,
  3. Ask your doctor for alternatives to beta-blockers and anti-hypertensive drugs,
  4. Avoid nasal decongestants that contain ephedrine or other stimulants.
  5. Ask your doctor for alternatives to thyroid hormones and some antidepressant medications also can cause sleep disturbances.
  6. Avoid tyramine-containing foods such as bacon, cheese, chocolate, ham, potatoes, tomatoes, and sausage, as tyramine inhibits norepinephrine and other neurochemicals and can cause insomnia.



  1. Benson, H., D. Goleman, and J. Gurin, eds. The Relaxation Response. New York: Consumer Reports Books, 1993, 233-57.
  2. Chen, J. K. Chinese Medical Herbology and Pharmacology. Los Angeles: Art of Medicine Press, 2004.
  3. Chen, J. Clinical Manual of Oriental Medicine. Los Angeles: Lotus Institute of Integrative Medicine, 2002.
  4. Hazelhoff, B. et al. 1982. Antispasmodic effects of valerian compounds. Arch. Int. Pharmacodyn. 257=274.
  5. Maciocia, G. The Practice of Chinese Medicine. London: Churchill Livingstone, 2000.
  6. Ni, M. Meditation for Stress Release. Audio CD. Los Angeles: Seven Star, 2003.
  7. Ni, M., and C. McNease. The Tao of Nutrition. Los Angeles: Seven Star, 1987.
  8. Palatnik, A., K. Frolov, M. Fux, and J. Benjamin. 2001. Double-blind, controlled, crossover trial of inositol versus fluvoxamine for the treatment of panic disorder. Clin. Psychopharma Col. 21(3):335-39.


©2015 Dr. Mao Shing Ni

Read Secrets of Self-Healing: Harness Nature's Power to Heal Common Ailments ... By Maoshing Ni

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