A Natural Approach to Better Sleep: An Interview with Tieraona Low Dog, M.D.

A Natural Approach to Better Sleep: An Interview with Tierona Low Dog, M.D.

How does a world-renowned doctor with more than 35 years of experience in natural medicine achieve quality sleep—and encourage her patients to do the same?

We spoke with Tieraona Low Dog, M.D., integrative physician and chief medical officer of the luxury Well & Being resort spas to find out. Read on to learn more about how she prioritizes shuteye, why she doesn’t aim for a magic nightly number, and the practices and supplements that anyone can use to snooze more soundly.

Marygrace: How important is sleep for your overall wellbeing, happiness, and productivity?

Dr. Low Dog: Sleep is vitally important for maintaining both mental and physical health. When you feel repeatedly tired from not getting adequate sleep, the body releases stress hormones to try to help keep you alert.

These hormones are what make you crave more caffeine and ‘quick energy’ (like sugary, carb-rich foods), which can increase your risk for high blood pressure, elevated cholesterol levels and racking up pounds on the bathroom scale.

Sleep is the time when we consolidate memories and learning. To function at your best, you need adequate sleep.

Sleep is the time when we consolidate memories and learning. To function at your best, you need adequate sleep.

MG: Do you feel different when you’re well rested versus when you’re running low on sleep?

Dr. Low Dog: When I go more than a couple of nights without good sleep, I feel tired during the day, less sharp mentally, and I definitely find myself craving carbs.

MG: How much sleep do you aim to get each night—and how often do you actually meet the mark?

Dr. Low Dog: I don’t ‘aim’ for any certain amount of sleep. I gauge my level of sleep by how rested I feel during the day. I’d say that I generally get around 7 hours of sleep each night, and that it is a rare day when I don’t have good energy.

MG: So would you recommend that people listen to their bodies instead of trying to get a set number of hours of sleep?

Dr. Low Dog: You should always listen to your body. If you are sleeping 10 hours every night and are still tired during the day, then you are clearly not getting the right kind of sleep. How much sleep you need is the amount that allows you to have the energy you need to function at your best during the day.

MG: How do you prioritize getting enough quality sleep while still feeling like you’re able to stay on top of all your responsibilities?

Dr. Low Dog: I have created habits around my sleep just like exercise. I have working out on my calendar and it is just as important as any other to-do item. Same for sleep.

I put away the email and have my phone set for ‘Do Not Disturb’ at 8 PM with the exception of my immediate family (it means all other calls or texts go directly to voice mail or are silent). The TV goes off at 8:30.

Pressing screen on cell phone
Putting your phone in ‘Do Not Disturb’ mode in the later evening can help you wind down at night.

MG: What is your evening routine like?

Dr. Low Dog: I take a hot bath or shower several nights a week, drink a cup or two of Traditional Medicinals Nighty Night tea around 8 PM (2 hours before bed so I don’t have to get up and go to the bathroom at midnight!). I also take 3 mg of melatonin, which tells your body that it is dark outside and that it is time to go to sleep.

Candles and lamps only after 8 PM. No overhead lights. I am in bed, temperature around 66 degrees, by 10 PM every night. I don’t stay out late at parties. Even when I am invited out to dinner, I ask for the reservation to be around 6 PM so that I can be back home or to the hotel by 8 PM. I prioritize rest.

MG: What about your daytime routine—how do the choices you make during the day contribute to your overall sleep quality?

Dr. Low Dog: I drink two cups of black tea every morning but not after noon. Caffeine is best consumed early in the day. I drink calming teas throughout the afternoon, often 3-4 cups.

I work out at noon three days per week, as I have found that it interrupts my sleep if I do it later in the day.

In the early evening, we walk up to put away the horses and chickens, which is incredibly relaxing and the 1/2 mile walk is a great way to wind down after dinner. I learned long ago that one has to prepare for sleep. One has to invite sleep.

MG: Do you ever rely on natural remedies to help you fall asleep or get better sleep?

Dr. Low Dog: I have found melatonin is very helpful for falling asleep IF you take it at least 2 hours before your planned bedtime.

I love teas that contain passionflower, lemon balm, valerian, chamomile and/or hops to help wind down in the evening. For more severe insomnia, some of my patients have found that 100-150 mg of 5-HTP taken 30 minutes before bedtime can be very effective (check with your pharmacist or health care provider before using this).

Woman drinking warm tea
Warm chamomile tea can be very effective in helping you fall asleep.

Watch the alcohol. Too much can make you fall asleep quickly but then wake up in the middle of the night unable to go to sleep.

If you take calcium and/or magnesium supplements, take these in the evening as they can also help you relax and sleep better.

MG: If there was one thing you could tell your patients about sleep that they probably weren’t aware of, what would it be?

Dr. Low Dog: If you are tired during the day after a night of not sleeping well, take a 20-minute nap.

Set the alarm on your phone for 25 minutes, shut off the lights, turn off ringer on the phone, lay down or put your head on your desk, close your eyes and allow yourself to completely relax. It can leave you refreshed and mentally alert.

Making room for a short nap in the day also takes some of the pressure off those who do not always sleep well at night. And contrary to some of the information out there, short naps do not interfere with your sleep at night. Living in New Mexico most of my life, the concept of a siesta has always seemed very practical and wise.

Do you have a favorite natural remedy that helps you sleep better?

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Marygrace Taylor

Marygrace Taylor is an award-winning health writer for Amerisleep. Somehow, she manages to get eight hours of sleep almost every night.