Waking up at the same time each night? The Chinese medicine “body clock” explains why.
FEBRUARY 19, 2017
Human beings have an intrinsic and powerful connection to sunlight that evolved over thousands of years. Before the advent of electricity we were bound by the constraints of daylight, and our sleep cycles followed suit. But today, electricity and technological stimulation allow our minds and bodies to be active after sundown, which can wreak havoc on our health. Many hormonal processes in our body are literally hardwired to be orchestrated by sunlight and the absence of sunlight. It is no surprise that adhering to a normal sleep pattern is therefore highly important to maintaining optimal health.
The “Body Clock”
Many people report that they fall asleep easily, but wake at the same time in the middle of the night. This can be incredibly frustrating, especially if you can’t fall back asleep and wake up tired the next day. The concept of an “Organ Clock” in Chinese medicine is a useful tool in understanding why this occurs. In Chinese medicine, energy or qi, moves through the body’s meridians and organs in a 24 hour cycle. Every two hours the qi (or energy) is strongest within a particular organ and its functions within the body. And that’s not all – the body, mind and emotions are inseparable in Chinese medicine – meaning that if you have disharmony in your physical body, it is tied to your emotional state. So if you wake up at 3 AM, when Liver energy peaks, you may be suffering from Liver Qi stagnation, which could be related to an unhealthy diet, excess alcohol consumption, unresolved anger or high levels of stress. If you consistently wake at 4 AM – it could be due to an imbalance in your Lungs, which is related to grief and sadness, fatigue, or reduced immune function.
The most important time to sleep!
Many of us are habitual night owls and think nothing of it, especially if we get a decent amount of sleep each night. But, according to Chinese medicine, it’s not only how much sleep you get that matters, but also when you get it. A bedtime of 10:30pm (at the latest) is advisedso that you are asleep by 11pm when the Liver and Gallbladder start to regulate qi, process emotions, balance hormones and detoxify the body. According to Chinese medicine, the window from 11 PM – 3 AM, which correlates to the Liver and Gallbladder, is most important in terms of maintaining health, especially as we age.Many of us have heard the old adage: “Every hour of sleep before midnight is worth two after midnight.” This idea is backed by modern sleep science – we experience the deepest part of sleep during the first third of the night. This deep sleep, or Slow Wave Sleep (SWS), is the most restorative part of our sleep. During these hours the stress hormone cortisol is reduced and parasympathetic nervous system activity increases, which allows us to fully rest and move away from the fight or flight responses that dominate during waking hours. SWS is associated with memory and learning. A lack of this type of sleep can lead to reduced daytime functioning and alertness as well as waking feeling unrefreshed. Further, human growth hormone, which is essential to repairing our bodies from daily injury and maintaining health, is released from 9pm-7am, making each hour of sleep during this time critical.
Check out the guide below to find some insight into why you might be waking up at a certain hour. Acupuncture is a great way to balance the qi within your body to improve sleep and energy and balance emotions. Yoga, meditation, physical activity, a healthy diet and adhering to a consistent bed time will also greatly impact your sleep.
9 PM – 11 PM // Triple Burner (related to the Heart and Pericardium)
Emotion: Joy or lack of joy, depression, hopelessness.
Functions: The Triple Burner is not a distinct organ but is related to our endocrine and lymphatic systems. It controls metabolism within the body.
Symptoms of imbalance: Mania, feelings of guilt, depression, adrenal fatigue, hormone imbalance, sluggish metabolism, frequent headaches, fatigue, earaches, swollen lymph nodes, fibromyalgia, thyroid disorder, alternating chills and fever.
Tips: Consider going to bed earlier, establish a calming nighttime routine, avoid artificial light after 9pm.
11 PM – 1 AM // Gall Bladder (strongly tied to the Liver)
Functions: The Gallbladder stores and excretes bile to facilitate proper digestion. It also rules the decision making process, controls the sinews and tendons and governs dreams.
Symptoms of imbalance: Indecision, frequent sighing, rash decisions, poor judgement, difficulty making decisions, shyness, timidity, high cholesterol, resentment, dream-disturbed sleep, weak tendons, tendonitis.
Tips: Avoid alcohol, transfats and spicy foods. Eat a small dinner well before bedtime and avoid snacking before bed.
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