Another night of poor sleep, waking at 3 or 4 or 5 a.m. has left you tired? Multiple nights have left you exhausted? I hear this more often than you might think. In fact, while some people do have trouble falling asleep, many more that I have seen experience some waking at 3-5 a.m. Some fall back asleep, and some do not. It seems worthwhile to explore this and give some pointers from Chinese Medicine point a view. While taking sleep aids may very well make you sleep, it is only treating the symptom. Chinese Medicine gets to the underlying constitutional imbalance, treating the root of the problem
“Work at sunrise, rest at sunset.”
This is a Chinese saying that is well heeded. The human body follows these same cycles, and the saying reminds us we should follow the patterns of nature. As the sun rises, the Qi and Blood in our bodies moves from the inner organs to the exterior channels to facilitate activity. It stays there all day. Then, as the sun goes down, the Qi and Blood returns to the organs. Specifically, from 11p.m. to 3 a.m., is the time the Qi and Blood flow more through the Gall Bladder and Liver, as they filter and cleanse. If you are not resting during this time, these organs will not be able to do their job, and you will at the very least feel sluggish the next day. So it is very important to be asleep by 11pm.
The Liver (and Kidney) also needs plenty of blood to work effectively. If there is not enough, it’s like an engine running without enough oil. It’s more likely to heat up, get clogged and be noisy. It’s easy to imagine how this could interrupt sleep. Quite often, the heat and agitation builds up during Liver time (1-3am), to flare up just after, causing the waking at 3-5am. It’s also easy to imagine that any clogging of the Liver could cause these problems as well, we call it Liver Qi Stagnation.
Chinese Medicine is excellent for resolving these issues. While it is possible to nourish the blood with healthy food (meat, greens, beans especially), sometimes it gets too deficient, and a course of Chinese herbs can very strongly boost it up. And while exercise and deep relaxation can help prevent and ameliorate Qi Stagnation, sometimes it gets so clogged you need Acupuncture to get it moving, and a good cleanse with the appropriate herbs.
But what can you do to help prevent this problem and improve your sleep? Besides the things I’ve mentioned already, (there’s a summary list below), one of the most important problems I run across is people being much too active, especially as they grow older. It’s difficult, because our current culture rewards activity, which corresponds to Yang, and not rest, which is Yin. Too much Yang activity burns up the Yin, which also includes things moist, like the blood. So it is very important to manage your time and not do too much in any one day. In addition, it’s important to ramp down in the evening. Continuing Yang activity up to bedtime makes it very difficult to just suddenly turn things over to the Yin side. Even if you fall asleep easily, this may be simply due to exhaustion, while your mind is still racing in the background somewhere. As soon as your body gets a little rest, you wake at 3 a.m. with all kinds of thoughts. Unfortunately, Yang activity also includes watching any kind of video screen or reading about disturbing or violent images, and digesting food. Some nice, easy time about 1-2 hours before going to bed, with no big meals, is vital. (On the other hand, a small snack of whole grains or protein before bed can help maintain sugar levels during the night.)
So let’s summarize what you can do to sleep better:
- Be asleep by 11 p.m. and follow the cycles of nature;
- Eat plenty of healthy, blood nourishing foods, like greens, beans, and meat in appropriate quantities (a few ounces at a time only, several times a week. Liver, and marrow in bones can really boost the Blood);
- Exercise moderately regularly;
- Do some sort of deep relaxation, even if it’s breathing deeply with a cup of tea for 10 min;
- SLOW DOWN! Don’t do too much in any one day, and;
- Have some nice relaxing time 1-2 hours before bed, including
- avoiding TV, computer, and disturbing reading 1-2 hours before bed
- Do not eat too much just before bed: Another Chinese Saying: “If the Stomach is not comfortable, sleep is not peaceful.”
If you find that you have been having great difficulty sleeping for a while, and/or none of this helps, or you need help to stop using sleep medications, come and see me, and we’ll get you back in balance!
A nice treat: Soaking you feet in warm water before bed can help provide relaxation and help harmonize the inner organs for sleep.