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Sleep time and Chinese Medicine

Posted Apr 16 2009 5:09pm


My condolences if you are among what seems to be the masses of insomnia sufferers. In Chinese medicine, sleep disturbances always affect the Heart qi or yin. When the energy of an organ is unsettled, we say the spirit doesn’t have a place to rest. Chinese theory states there is an aspect of spirit and a specific emotion related to each organ energy. In the instance of the Heart, shen is the spirit associated with the Heart energy and the emotion is joy. Similar to a person, if the spirit cannot rest, if the heart has no place to relax, neither can it rejuvenate or regenerate. A practitioner would listen for and look for symptoms indicating too much heat, stagnation of qi or a lack of an aspect of qi. Heat agitates us and agitates our energy and organ energy. Feeling stuck in a situation does not allow for the natural flow regardless if it is happening to you or your energy. When symptoms result from a lack of something, balance can only occur if the other element (Heart qi) is strong enough to compensate. Just like a team approach, that can only happen for so long. These patterns can cause one or more types of sleep disturbance of inability to fall asleep, difficult falling asleep, frequent waking, restless sleep, disordered sleep cycle, or dream-disturbed sleep.

Heat affecting an organ energy is a common pattern. Heat derived from emotions or mental-emotional unrest, diet, overwork, or stress and deficiency heat derived from a lack of yin energy (usually associated with menopause) will agitate the Heart causing sleep irregularities. Chronic patterns of deficiency of blood or deficiency of yin are other patterns; both usually affect women but can affect all individuals in a highly stressed long term situation, immune-compromised or nutrient-deficient individuals, or chemo and radiation recipients.

Lifestyle habits are sometimes the culprit of transitory insomnia. Changing those external causes is the first step. Acupuncture can address your underlying propensity to external causes but cannot completely readjust them for you. There are obvious steps you can take to facilitate your own restful sleep.

·   Do not consume stimulants—alcohol, drugs, caffeine, and sugar. Play with your consumption, at least avoid caffeine or sugar or significantly reduce it during the second half of the day. Reduce alcohol consumption by half.

·   Do not eat a large or heavy meal right before bedtime. Stomach excess or food stagnation commonly causes sleep and digestive issues late at night.

·   Exercise at night, if contributing to sleep disturbance, should be conducted earlier in the day. While others who experience a late night energy surge will notice it dissipate with a short, yet brisk walk around the block.

·   Any stress that you can reduce, do it. Any looming thought process can keep your mind active at night. Complete all work before going to bed or don’t start it if you can’t finish it before you turn in.

·   Any new environmental condition affecting sleep should be addressed. Traffic, construction, hum of humidifier, uncomfortable mattress or room temperature can only be addressed at home.

·   Create a calm restful sleep environment and keep to a fairly consistent sleep schedule. I suggest aiming to be asleep by 11 pm. Sleeping through the hours associated with the Gallbladder and Liver is very important, this is the time (11 pm - 3 am) insomnia strikes.

·Many tea companies have sleep-inducing teas, experiment with those or ask at health food store what could be an appropriate supplement to assist your sleep.                      

After all those, Chinese medicine comes in. In any of the true insomnia patterns, there is a rising of energy or heat to the upper body. To sleep, one needs energy to remain anchored and balanced. Acupuncture can draw out excess energy and heat, can clear and balance the affected organ channel, and, with herbs, yin and blood can be bolstered and heat can be cooled.


© 2008 Lisa Reichert, L.Ac

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