Understanding Sleep Disruptions Through the Lens of Chinese Medicine

Understanding Sleep Disruptions Through the Lens of Chinese Medicine



As a naturopath with a keen interest in Chinese medicine, I've often explored the intricate connections between our bodies' internal processes and the external factors that influence them. One fascinating aspect of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) is the concept of the body clock, which outlines how different organs are more active at certain times of the day and night. If you often find yourself waking at a particular time during the night, TCM may offer some insights into why this happens.

I personally have been waking up at 2 AM on the dot several nights this week (hint, I had black tea and dark chocolate), so I thought you might find it interesting to learn why you might be waking at specific times too.

The Chinese Body Clock

According to TCM, our bodies operate on a 24-hour cycle, with each two-hour segment being dominated by a specific organ and its corresponding functions. This body clock is crucial for maintaining balance and harmony within the body. When we experience disruptions in our sleep, it can indicate imbalances in these organ systems.

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Common Wake Times and Their Meanings

9 PM - 11 PM: Triple Burner (related to the Heart and Pericardium)

Emotion: Joy or lack of joy, depression, hopelessness
Functions: The Triple Burner isn't a distinct organ but relates to our endocrine and lymphatic systems, controlling metabolism within the body
Symptoms of imbalance: Mania, guilt, depression, adrenal fatigue, hormone imbalance, sluggish metabolism, frequent headaches, fatigue, earaches, swollen lymph nodes, fibromyalgia, thyroid disorders, alternating chills and fever
Tips: Consider going to bed earlier, establish a calming nighttime routine, avoid artificial light after 9 PM (Turning Pointe Acupuncture + Wellness)


11 PM - 1 AM: Gallbladder

If you frequently wake during this time, it could indicate an imbalance in the gallbladder. The gallbladder is responsible for breaking down fats and processing emotions, particularly those related to decision-making and stress. Waking during this time may suggest unresolved emotional conflicts or excessive consumption of fatty foods. For children, this might be linked to difficulty making decisions or handling stress.

1 AM - 3 AM: Liver

Waking between 1 AM and 3 AM is often associated with the liver. This is a time when the liver works hard to detoxify the body and produce fresh blood. Frequent waking during these hours can indicate issues with detoxification, excessive yang energy, or liver congestion. Consumption of caffeine, alcohol, or rich foods close to bedtime can exacerbate this issue. Emotionally, this period is linked to anger and frustration. For children, it might be a signal of dietary imbalances or emotional stress.

3 AM - 5 AM: Lungs

The lungs are most active during this period. Waking at this time can be linked to grief or sadness, as the lungs are associated with processing these emotions. Additionally, it can indicate respiratory issues or a need for deeper breathing. Ensuring a clean, well-ventilated sleeping environment and practicing breathing exercises may help. Children waking during this time might be dealing with feelings of sadness or respiratory sensitivities.

5 AM - 7 AM: Large Intestine

Waking during this time could point to issues with the large intestine, which is responsible for eliminating waste from the body. This could signify dietary imbalances, such as insufficient fiber intake, or emotional blockages related to letting go. Drinking a glass of warm water first thing in the morning can aid digestion and regularity. Emotionally, this time is linked to feeling stuck or unable to let go. For children, it might indicate a need for better dietary habits or emotional release.

Practical Tips for Better Sleep

1. Monitor Caffeine and Sugar Intake
As you've noticed, caffeine and sugar can disrupt sleep. Try to limit these substances, especially in the afternoon and evening, to see if your sleep improves.

2. Create a Calming Bedtime Routine
Incorporate practices that promote relaxation and reduce yang energy before bed. This can include activities like meditation, gentle stretching, or drinking a calming herbal tea such as chamomile or valerian root.

3. Detoxify Your Environment
Ensure your sleeping area is free from pollutants and clutter. Consider using an air purifier and keeping electronics out of the bedroom to minimize electromagnetic interference.

4. Emotional Health
Address any unresolved emotional issues that may be affecting your sleep. Journaling, talking to a therapist, or practicing mindfulness can help process and release these emotions.

5. Support Your Liver
This can include eating a balanced diet rich in green leafy vegetables, avoiding excessive alcohol, and perhaps incorporating liver-supportive herbs like milk thistle or dandelion root into your routine. A dandy latte is a nice substitute for coffee!

If You're the Snorer

If you’re the one causing sleep disruptions due to snoring, here are some tips that might help:

- Thinner Pillow for Back Sleepers: Elevates your head just enough to open airways.
- Higher Pillow for Side Sleepers: Keeps your neck aligned and reduces snoring.
- Mouth Taping: If you can breathe well through your nose, try using mouth tape to keep your mouth closed during sleep.

Understanding the rhythms of your body and the signals it sends can be a powerful tool in achieving better sleep and overall health. By paying attention to when you wake up and making small, mindful adjustments, you can help restore balance and improve your well-being.

Now that I have noticed the pattern of waking at 2 AM, I can be sure not to eat chocolate before bed and have some liver herbs. Take note next time you wake, and revert back to this resource.

Does any of this resonate with you? Let us know in the comments below and start a conversation.

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