Ahhh, sleep. So good, so healing, so reviving, and for many… so difficult! Sleep can be such a challenge--whether that be falling asleep, staying asleep, having nightmares, night sweats, or even persistent food cravings that arouse you in the middle of the night. There is no single collective insomnia problem--there are many!
One of my favorite aspects of Chinese medicine is that this system of medicine does not treat every individual with a similar disorder, problem, or dianosis the same way. In the case of insomnia especially, there are many different ways this common imbalance can manifest in your body. In order to figure out the correct course of treatment, you first need to figure out the root cause of the problem. This is why extensive questioning during an acupuncture treatment is necessary!
Today I’m going to highlight three main times of night that people with insomniatic symptoms have the most trouble, and give you an easy suggestion for each to help regulate and/or calm your system so you can ease into a deeper and more sound sleep.
First things first! The day is broken up into two-hour chunks of time based on a “Chinese Medicine Clock.” This breakdown was developed thousands of years ago. Each two-hour window is focused on the organ system that is not only the most active during that time, but can also go the most out of balance at that time. For now, we will focus on the three blocks of time that occur between 11 PM and 5 AM--the hours which include, for most people, the time of night that can be the most troublesome.
Time #1: 11 PM- 1 AM | “Gallbladder” Time
Simple Shift: Sleep by 10 PM
If you’ve worked with me in any capacity in the past, you know that I strongly recommend trying to fall asleep before 10 PM. There are actually quite a few different reasons for this, but here is a biggie… between 11 PM and 1 AM, the Gallbladder needs to go to work. The Gallbladder’s work happens most efficiently and effectively when you are already in a deep sleep by 11 PM. Its main functions? 1) Cellular repair. 2) Bile release. 3) Building red blood cells… Super important right? I’ll even say some of the most important functions in our body! Reason numero uno for going to bed by 10 PM.
In addition, when the Gallbladder goes to work performing those important functions, the body ramps up a little during these processes. In other words, if you are not already sleeping by 11 PM, the body will kick back into “wide awake mode” and falling asleep will become that much harder. So, if you are someone who struggles with falling asleep, my first and biggest piece of advice would be to try to sleep before 10 PM, that way when the Gallbladder kicks into gear at 11, you are already off in dream land.
Time #2: 1-3 AM | “Liver” Time
Simple Shift: Move your Liver Qi
I wrote extensively about this organ system in my blog post, “Liver Qi Stagnation, the pathology everyone has” (link), so if you find when you read on, this sounds a lot like you, then go back to refer to the previous post for more ways to balance your Liver energy.
If you are someone who falls asleep okay, but consistently wakes up between 1 and 3 AM, this piece of advice is for you! The Liver organ system rules this time of the early morning and while it is similar to the Gallbladder in the sense that it needs to carry out important physiological functions like detoxification while the body is in deep sleep mode, there are a few other components that may interest you about this time of morning. One of the best ways to balance the Liver is to MOVE! Exercise during the day will help you sleep better at night!
You may have already realized that on days when you are more active, you sleep better, and then this will just further ingrain that reality for you. But, yes-to-the-yes, a consistent exercise routine (whatever that looks like for you) will help you sleep better at night especially if your insomnia issues arise during this time of night.
Time #3: 3-5 AM | “Lung” Time
Simple Shift: Work Out Your Emotions
Every organ system does not only get to be the big player during a certain time of day, but it also has particular characteristics that are associated with it. One of my favorites, and the most telling in a lot of circumstances, is the emotion that is connected to the organ. The Lung is referred to as the “delicate organ” in Chinese medicine, and the emotion associated with it is grief. Grief. Such a strong emotion, such a painful emotion. Many people who struggle with sleep during this time in the early morning are also dealing with a lot of grief, sadness, depression currently, or there are a lot of these emotions that have been repressed.
If this is you, I cannot advocate enough that the answer is indeed not a sleeping pill, but that your body is telling you a strong message: You need to work out your emotions!
Remember that emotions are one of the primary causes of disease in Chinese medicine. Primary! That means that a great deal, a huge deal, of our really extreme diseases, illnesses, and pathologies manifest because of emotion that has not been properly felt, healed, and then let go. If this sounds all too familiar, I highly suggest working with an acupuncturist and seeing a therapist or coach to help with the processing of your feelings and emotions.
There are many reasons insomnia can arise, and whether you are going through a bout of it now, or have in the past, or it affects one of your loved ones, my main goal in writing this post is that you begin to see that there is not a collective answer to such a broad imbalance. The key is in understanding yourself more and the root cause.
In addition to there being many reasons insomnia can arise, there are also many other ways to balance each of these organ systems mentioned, if insomnia is currently plaguing you, I recommend seeing an acupuncturist and allowing them to help you with this process. This is one of the most common complaints I see in my own clinic, it is also one of the quickest pathologies people will grab a pill for, which means you are merely only bandaging up a bigger problem. Our body gives us really, really, really amazing feedback if we only take the time to listen to it.
If you love reading this content as much as I love writing it and you want to learn more, more more, check out my online course with health coach and nutrition advocate Be Well Danielle! This 12-month program gets into deep detail, all from a holistic approach that allows you to get to know your body and treat it with the love it needs! Learn more here…