Sleep tips: TCM approach (2/2)
In our last section of Sleep Tips, we mainly focused on the Yin and Yang interaction related to the sleep. This time we will cover a little more about our functional systems, known as Zhang Fu 臟腑 in Chinese medicine terminology.
TCM emphasizes the structural organ (materialistic part) as well as the functional properties (non-materialistic part). So when we talk about a certain system, let’s say Kidney, we talk about more than just two bean-shaped structures inside our abdomen. TCM integrates and connects functions into 5 main systems, namely:
Heart: The Emperor, main control of mind activity, in charge of blood circulation.
Lung: The Emperor’s Hand, control of passive defense, in charge of gaseous exchange and water circulation.
Liver: The army General, control of active attack in the defense, in charge of the body’s excitement and the storage of blood energy.
Spleen: The Treasurer, control of the blood’s quality, work together with the Stomach system, in charge of the intake and delivery of energy from food.
Kidney: The Central Reserve/ Library, control of the essence energy storage both from congeniality and diet, in charge of the calming action, blueprint of growth and repairment of the body.
Each of these systems' impairment could lead to insomnia. Generally, the following causes are the most common:
Excessive thinking or mental exhaustion consumes more blood energy and kidney essence energy than the body can generate (both are Yin energies), leading to general deficiency of Heart, Spleen and Kidney Yin energy.
Anger and stress on the other hand, over-excite the Liver system creating too much Yang energy. Whenever the body has more Yang than Yin, then the Yang cannot return to Yin (please go back to part one for explanation). Simply put: Yang is a person, Yin is the person’s house. Either the house is broken, or there are too many people in it, the result is that the person cannot return to the house and rest. Therefore, insomnia happens.
Overeating, eating too much hot and spicy food, deep-fried food or too sweet/greasy food can overload the spleen and stomach systems, which impairs the proper breakdown and delivery of food. The retention of food will cause toxin accumulation. The most common toxins are excessive fire (Yang) and polluted water (Yin). [Read more: TCM Dietary advice]
Another condition that results from improper diet is indeed eating too much cold and raw food and too little carbohydrates. While too much hot and spicy will overload the Spleen and Stomach, too much cold and too little carbs actually deprives them. What a delicate and tricky balance! Before you rolli your eyes and say ‘oh my god’, please let me explain. The main fuel for Spleen and Stomach are carbohydrates which are later broken down and delivered to other systems. The deprivation of Spleen and Stomach energy also means the deprivation of fast and easy energy of the whole body. The body is then forced to use the storage energy and in the long run, it will weaken the Kidney system. As for the normal fire energy, it is the main tool for breaking down and decomposing food. Just look at your garden and you will find those bacteria and fungi work much faster in summer than winter. Again, too much coldness will also cause toxin accumulation and weaken the energy intake from food.
Congenital weakness, aging or major illness all result in impaired functions and poor supply of energies. Using the man and house metaphor again, in this case the house is built poorly, it got old or was damaged in an earthquake. In the TCM terms, it is the disruption between heart and kidney. The depleted kidney-Yin/water will not be able to nourish the heart-Yang/fire, leading to the condition known as “Yin not accommodating Yang”.
Imbalance between work and rest
Our body follows a biological clock to perform certain functions at certain time with the optimal efficiency. Staying up late, engaging in exciting activities at night can be just as problematic as being immobile or not being exposed to sufficient sunlight during the day. The time of eating is also important. We need to have prompt and proper energy supply from food, but not too much to overload the digestive system while we should rest.
[Read more: Circadian Rhythms and the Chinese Medicine Body Clock (1/2)] [Read more: Circadian Rhythms and the Chinese Medicine Body Clock (2/2)] [Read more: Breakfast is indeed important- said both TCM and modern scientific research]
Generally, insomnia can be induced by many factors, mostly associated with mood and mental stress, diet, vital energies deficiencies. These cause internal disturbances, non-smooth circulations and an imbalance of Yin and Yang. The main lesion is in the heart, and may also accompany spleen, kidney, liver, gallbladder and stomach disharmonies.
Next time, we will cover how TCM practitioners manage insomnia and what you can do to improve your sleep. [Read more: 9 Tips to promote sleep]