Tips for a Good Night’s Sleep

Are you getting less than eight hours of sleep per night? Do you wake up during the night several times? Do you wake up and have trouble getting back to sleep? If you answered yes to any of these, you could have insomnia.

More than 60 percent of Americans say they suffer from insomnia. It is so prevalent in the U.S. yet we just accept it as a normal part of life when it happens.

A lack of quality sleep leads to a foggy mind, lowered ability to multi-task, moodiness and an inability to adapt to stress. It isn’t just a strain on your mood and ability to get things done, but takes a measurable toll on your body systems and their ability to function properly.

One of the many reasons insomnia affects us so deeply is because it hits us at our core. For periods of time when we sleep, our body enters a heightened state of regeneration and healing. Shaving even a small amount of time off sleep can have major repercussions. Here are some of the effects of enduring insomnia:

• Greater risk for obesity: when you don’t sleep enough, your levels of leptin (a hormone that stimulates appetite) and you are less motivated to exercise.

• Increased risk of Type 2 Diabetes: you make up to 30 percent more insulin when sleep deprived. Insulin levels should rise when we eat foods with sugars, and then quickly dissipate. Having too much insulin over time causes the body to become insulin resistant, desensitized.

• Strain on your heart: ongoing insomnia may increase your risk of heart failure threefold, according to two large scale and long-term studies.

• Clinical Depression and infertility: when your body is not able to get restorative sleep it prioritizes resources to maintain essential body processes, like your organs. Your mood and fertility take a back seat.

Likely, either you or someone you know has or is coping with insomnia. What can you do to fix it?

The answer is sometimes complex as there is a habitual component with insomnia as well as a physical factor.

Holistic systems of medicine, like Traditional Chinese Medicine, understand this habitual (mind) and physical (body) connection well and are effective at treating insomnia.

Acupuncture can help the body establish healthy sleep patterns and reduce the effects of stress on the body.

In my years treating insomnia, there are some common pieces of advice I give, pertaining to diet and lifestyle.

Here are a few:

Potassium and Magnesium

Both play a part in your muscle function and may relieve leg cramps. Get these from bananas, papaya, sweet potato, lima beans, almonds, and dark leafy greens.

Omega-3 Fatty Acids (Fish oil)

These nutrients can help reduce stress hormones which interfere with healthy sleep patterns. Foods with great fatty acids are salmon and halibut.


This lovely vitamin is needed to make serotonin, which helps with stress hormones and enhances your mood, and melatonin, a main hormone needed in sleep cycles. Get this in chickpeas and halibut.


Habitual changes are equally important. Here are some common things you should keep in mind:

Winding down

Your body and mind need time to calm down after a day of activity. Giving yourself at least onr hour of mellow time is important to transition to bedtime. This could mean, reading a book or watching a fun show. Avoid things that get you thinking or upset you.

Electronics and lights

Plan on turning off all electronics (except music) and most lights 30 minutes before you want to sleep. Get in bed and relax. A dim night-light to read by is ok, but you want to give yourself the opportunity to fall asleep. Light tells your brain it is daytime and encourages you to be awake. Phones, tablet, tv and computers are all light sources and should be avoided if insomnia plagues you (or your bedmate).

Keep it easy

Don’t overcomplicate your evening routine. Make it as easy as it can be.

Ambient noise

Some people sleep better with some gentle ambient noise. Listening to the sounds of rain, waves, waterfalls, white noise can be useful. If using headphones, consider binaural beats, which can quickly set the mind in a relaxed state. There are many binaural beat apps out there so give them a try.

Tracy Zollinger is a licensed acupuncturist who practices in Alameda. She also provides advice on herbs and nutrition. Find out more by calling 299-0057 or visit