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3 Reasons for Poor Sleep

A good night's sleep has endless health benefits. Sleep keeps our immune system strong, helps manage weight, heart health, blood sugar, reduces stress and inflammation and gives our body time to heal.

Unfortunately, sleep issues are a common concern. As with all health concerns, Chinese Medicine looks at what is going on for each individual. Once a pattern is identified, both the symptoms and the underlying causes are treated. Read on for a few common patterns related to sleep issues.


Liver Qi (chee) Stagnation Pattern

Insomnia worse with stress, waking during the night, awake from 1-3 am, hard to fall asleep, excessive or disturbing dreaming.

This set of symptoms relate to the Liver organ system. The Liver, in Traditional Chinese Medicine is responsible for moving energy and blood freely and easily in our bodies. Emotional stress can cause the Liver to become stagnant and disrupt the easy movement of energy in our body. The Liver congestion causes heat which is thought to rise and disturb the mind affecting sleep and emotions.

Other signs of this pattern:

  • Stress, resentment, irritability, frequent sighing

  • Shoulder and neck tension

  • Headaches, migraines, teeth grinding

  • Lump in the throat

  • PMS or irregular cycles

Modern medicine also shows correlations between liver damage and sleep disturbances. Among the liver's functions is breaking down hormones such as cortisol and melatonin. Dysregulation in these hormones affect our sleep wake cycle.

Melatonin should be high in the evening and responds to darkness. Vitamin B6 helps in the hormone production so add nuts, seeds, chickpeas, and avocados to your diet.

Cortisol should be low in the evening as to prevent sleep loss. Reducing stress in a way that works best for you and taking an adaptogen herb like astragulas, cordyceps or reishi can help balance levels.


Heart and Spleen deficiency

Hard to fall asleep due to a busy mind but then able to sleep throughout the night, dream disturbed sleep

The Spleen in its digestive function transforms nutrition into blood and energy. If your digestive system is weak, you will have less energy. Energy is also depleted by excess worrying. Those deficiencies in the Spleen diminish blood production (in the eastern definition). The weakness in the Spleen leads to weakness in the Heart generating vivid dreams and sleep disruptions.

Other signs: palpitations, easily startled, fatigue, low appetite, worry, anxiety

To nourish the Spleen organ system eat foods that are warm and more easily digested. Cut back on foods right out of the refrigerator, ice water, raw fruit and vegetables. Increase cinnamon, nutmeg, turmeric, garlic, ginger, onions, soups and stews. Foods to support the Heart are often associated with the color red and include antioxidant rich foods like beets, berries, cherries, and goji berries.


Yin Deficiency

Wakes frequently during the night, feels hot

In the notion of yin and yang there is a little piece of each energetic force in the other, making them interconnected. Movement is continual in our bodies and as one energy changes, the other will adjust. Yin can be depleted due to ongoing stress, chronic illness, hormone fluctuation, diet, over-exercising and aging. Yin is cooling, moistening, and when yin is diminished there is an increase of yang with signs of heat and dryness that can disrupt sleep.

Other signs of yin deficiency: dryness: dry eyes, throat, cough; heat: night sweats, hot flashes; joints sore and brittle; anxiety

Yin deficiency can relate to diminished minerals (calcium, magnesium) in the body. In fact traditional herbal formulas often have minerals in them to help supp0rt yin fluids which will moisten the body and calm the mind. Foods such as seaweeds, black beans, lima beans, nuts, and seeds supply minerals. Vitamins A, C, and D are needed for mineral absorption while coffee, soda, alcohol, and sugar inhibit absorption.


Acupuncture is meant to move your body toward homeostasis and resolve issues in a lasting way. The longer sleep disturbances has been an issue, the more treatments may be needed. Typically, a series of 6-12 sessions is effective for acute problems, though more may be needed for chronic concerns. Schedule now to improve your quality of sleep.

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