Do you ever find yourself too tired to think? Constantly yawning? Exhausted? In my time as a Chinese Medicine Practitioner, there has been one constantly recurring issue — sleep. One in three of us in the UK are estimated to suffer from poor sleep and in 2020, 40 percent of the global population was affected by insomnia, according to the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine.
A lack of sleep can affect the body in so many ways, a recent study for World Sleep Day showed that just one night of poor quality rest can affect your attention span, memory recall and learning ability. Finding out how you sleep has always been key in my time in the clinic, as it’s so key in Chinese Medicine diagnosis. If you can’t sleep, the first assumption in Chinese medicine would be that you have a yin/yang imbalance. Think of yang energy as a flame that keeps you powered up and motoring on all day. At night, yin energy should take over to restore and replenish you as you sleep.
The Chinese Viewpoint
Chinese medicine can be really effective for sleep issues because it looks at your emotional and energetic state alongside the physical state.
Sleep issues can point to an organ imbalance. The Chinese have a much broader concept of how the organs function than the traditional Western perspective. In Chinese Medicine, we look at organs as a whole including their energetic qualities. So, if you hear me saying: ‘It’s a problem with your Liver qi’ – it doesn’t mean you have a physical problem with your Liver, we are usually talking about the energetic level!
The Chinese Body Clock
It’s commonly known that our bodies work on a 24-hour cycle, otherwise known as the circadian rhythm. In Chinese Medicine, the body is governed by the organ body clock. This works with qi and the balance of yin and yang which are our day and nighttime energies. Essentially we take each of the 12 organs of the body and divide them into two-hour segments. For example, the hours of 7 to 9 am. are all about the stomach, making it an ideal time to eat breakfast as our body’s energy is focused there.
If you are waking up between 1 and 3 am, your Liver is likely to be the culprit. The Liver is responsible for the nervous system and the detoxification of the blood, so it’s really important that the body is at rest by the time this element comes into play. If the Liver is struggling to detoxify and monitor the rest of the body, it might be because there’s too much yang energy in the body. This is more than just when you have a glass of wine, if you are hanging on to anger or resentment, this can wake up your Liver too.
If it is more like 3-5 am that you are lying awake, then in Chinese Medicine we look to the Lungs. If you’re holding onto stresses and strains and not relaxing and letting go of things that are bothering you, that’s related to your Lungs.
The Importance of Wei Qui
There’s a protective energy in the body called Wei Qi, which flows on the exterior of your body during the day, when it’s classified as yang. At night, this energy moves to the interior and so becomes yin. However, a sedentary lifestyle or stress will stop your Wei Qi from flowing freely, disrupting the pendulum swinging from yang to yin. That will make you miss out on deep, regenerative sleep and affect your immunity in the process.
How Can I Improve My Sleep?
The truth is when you’re waking up in the middle of the night, there’s no quick fix, but in honour of World Sleep Day, I am sharing simple but effective techniques to help improve sleep quality.
1. Body Gua Sha
Studies have shown that body gua sha effectively activates your parasympathetic rest phase, so it is an ideal ritual to practice before bed. Use the curved edge of the tool to press stroke across your body 6 – 10 times across the chest, neck and shoulders. Flushing toxins and tension away from this key area can have a big impact on how well you sleep. Look at a tutorial here.
2. Drink Chrysanthemum Tea
Chrysanthemum flower has been used for thousands of years in Chinese Medicine to treat insomnia. This wonderful tea clears excessive yang energy in the Liver and calms the nerves.
3. Just Breathe
Breath is the number one healing modality to the body, so if you’re tossing and turning, focus on your breathing. Place your hand on your lower stomach, put a Mona Lisa smile on your lips and breath in and out slowly and deeply. In five deep breaths, you can completely negate the stress response.
4. Massage Your Feet
Massaging your feet in a simple washing up bowl filled with warm water can help encourage relaxation, as well as boosting Wei-Qi, the Chinese Medicine name for our immune system. Focus on the ankles as these are where Wei-Qi enters the inner body at night to help repair and balance your key organs. The Hayo’u Mineral Shower Wash is perfect for this thanks to its aromatherapy properties.
5. Upgrade Your Living Space
What’s also important, particularly when we’re spending time at home, is the quality of breath you are getting from the air around you. Why not try a house plant? Bonsai and snake plants have been shown to improve air quality.
Taking a bath – or even a foot bath! – with added minerals before your evening gua sha regime helps to drain the lymph and calm your emotions to help you detox your mind and body before a good night’s sleep.
Here is my favourite ritual:
a. Soak for 20 minutes in a hot bath. Get into the bath when it’s warm, then add hot water, so that you heat up gradually. As the water temperature rises, so do your blood pressure, heart rate and blood sugar levels. Then, to correct this condition, the rest phase of your nervous system kicks in: your blood pressure decreases and your heart rate and blood sugar are lowered.
b. Follow with a cold shower, as cold as you can bear, for as long as you can manage! A regular blast of cold water boosts your immunity, circulation and metabolism.
c. Relax back into the hot bath.
d. Exfoliate all over using a loofah or body brush, making sure you include your groin and armpit regions. This encourages lymphatic drainage and is amazing for baby soft skin.
7. Rest In The Day
This may sound counterintuitive, but take an up-to 30-minute nap after lunch, ideally lying down, to nourish your yin energy. If you can’t, even 5 minutes out to focus on deep, slow breathing is beneficial. With this in mind, make sure you eat early, 6-7 pm at the latest. Digestion is a busy job for your stomach and spleen, so they can’t relax and rest. This is why going to bed on a full stomach can affect your sleep.
8. Limit Screen Time
Mr Brindle and I are the first to be guilty of a Netflix binge. But I really recommend turning off the TV a good hour before bed and indulging in a spot of self-care. Limiting screen time relaxes the eyes; which are linked to the liver in Chinese medicine. Give the liver too much to process and it will stop you from falling asleep.