Have you recently been waking up at the same time, or around the same time each night? Well, according to Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) the time you keeps flashing in the dead of night could signify an imbalance in a specific organ system. TCM theory believes that our spiritual well-being and physical health are directly connected to internal systems and rhythms, that help govern our bodily functions.
Lack of Sleep: Effects of Sleep Deprivation
We all know that a good night’s sleep is crucial for your body to regulate and function properly — but just how important is sleep? In the short term, a lack of adequate sleep can affect judgment, mood, ability to learn and retain information, and may increase the risk of serious accidents and injury.
Research has shown that even a few days of sleep disruption can cause (1):
Increased caloric intake and appetite
Increased inflammation (and inflammatory markers)
Increased blood pressure
Increased cortisol levels (a stress hormone)
Increased blood sugar levels and insulin
Long-term sleep impairment can lead to a host of health problems including obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and even early mortality (2).
Is Your Sleep Making You Sick, Fat, and Tired?
Take this quick quiz to find out what kind of sleeper you are, and how badly your sleep habits are affecting you:
Wake Up Times And What They Mean
Western medicine (aka traditional medicine) uses the term “circadian rhythms” to describe these processes and the changes that happen internally in response to our environment. While it’s not 100% clear on all of the details and reasons behind why our rhythms have the effects they do, we are slowly beginning to explore the relationship between disruptions in these rhythms and the development of illness.
Here is a list of times and the organs they are associated with — TCM believes that many of these blockages should be viewed physically and emotionally.
11 pm-1am: Gall Bladder
Have you been having a hard time making decisions lately? Maybe feeling a little low in the self-esteem department?
Physically, the gallbladder stores and excretes bile, but emotionally, according to TCM it’s in charge of self-esteem and decision-making. If you’re not sleeping by this time, you are depleting your gall bladder’s energy stores, which over time, can lead to poor self-esteem, poor judgment, or difficulty digesting fats.
Have you been irritable, frustrated, or angry more than usual?
If so, your liver might be in need of some rebalancing. The liver’s role is to store blood for menstruation and to get us through the day. If you’re not sleeping at this time, you can quickly become deficient, especially if you are female because of the importance of blood for menstruation (even for those going through menopause).
The liver is also emotionally connected to anger. You may find that if you have been waking up often between 1-3am you may have repressed anger or long-standing resentment. Symptoms of liver imbalances include irregular menstruation, anemia, chronic fatigue, and headache. You can support your liver naturally with medicinal herbs, and by making some simple lifestyle changes.
Has something particularly saddening, or tragic happened?
The lung is responsible for moving the qi (energy) through the meridians and to the entire body, as well as providing immune protection. It is also emotionally associated with grief. You may find that wake up during these times if you are struggling with grief or sorrow. Imbalances may also show up as wheezing, coughing, asthma, or getting sick easily.
Any toxins released and broken down earlier in the night are getting cleared out of the system.
The large intestine is active during this time. Eating a poor diet or too late can lead to problems that will wake you at this time.
5am-7am: Large Intestine
Have you been holding onto something that you’re having a particularly hard time letting go?
This is the best time to have a bowel movement. The large intestine is all about ‘letting go’ physically and emotionally. Symptoms of malfunction include constipation, dry stools, skin rash, and feeling emotionally ‘stuck’.
How To Get A Better Sleep, Naturally
Making sleep a priority by setting a consistent bedtime is step one in improving the quality of your sleep. Additionally, exercising regularly, avoiding caffeinated beverages after 2pm, and shutting your devices down close to bed can be lifestyle factors that help you sleep more soundly.
Having a nice cup of sleepytime tea with calming herbs like valerian root, passionflower, and skullcap can also help improve overall sleep quality, and help you wind down in the evening. There’s no denying sleep is important, and everyone struggles to get consistent restful sleep from time to time. I created my medicinal sleep tea Nightly Zen for patients who needed a soothing, natural sleep aid before bed.
If you’re having a hard time getting to the bottom of your sleep issues I recommend working with a naturopathic doctor or traditional Chinese medicine specialist to help determine the root cause of your sleep issues and create an individualized treatment plan for you.