It isn’t meant to be like that. In the old days, when the majority of the world’s population was still living in rural areas, people’s lives were dictated by the circadian cycle of the sun. They rose at dawn to work on the fields, and they went to bed after dusk.The working days were long in summer, and short in winter. With the invention of electricity of the end of the 19th century, and the onset of the Industrial Revolution, our lifestyle suddenly changed. We stopped following the law of nature, our lives became more stressful, and our sleeping patterns never fully recovered.
In the Oriental medical framework, there is a continuous fluctuation of Yin and Yang energy levels in a 24 hour period. The daytime period is Yang, and nighttime is Yin. The Yang energy reaches its peak at midday, then slowly begins to decline as the Yin energy gradually increases to reach its peak at midnight. After midnight, the Yin begins to decline as the Yang rises.
According to the principles of the Chinese clock, each of the 12 organs in the body, like the tidal rhythm of the oceans, has a daily two hour period when its functioning and efficiency is at its peak. This is followed 12 hours later by a similar period when the organ is at its weakest.
For example, the liver, which is in charge of cleansing the blood, reaches its peak period of activity between 1am and 3 am, and its weakest period is between 1pm and 3pm. I know from painful personal experience that when my liver has been taxed by an excessive intake of alcohol, I can always expect to wake up around that time the following morning, and suffer from digestive problems soon after lunch.
Again according to the Chinese clock, the peak efficiency of our digestive organs - the stomach, pancreas, and small intestine - is from 7am until early afternoon.This explains why we should have our biggest intake of food at breakfast and lunchtime. In contrast, big meals in the evening will not be so easily digested by the body, and will often disrupt affect our ability to fall asleep.
One must keep in mind that, before electricity transformed our lives, people had dinner and went to bed early. This allowed the liver to be most effective during its peak period of activity.
The night hours are when the Yin calming energy should be at its peak, to allow the body to rest and recover.
One of the main causes of insomnia is an excess amount of stimulating Yang energy remaining late in the day. This can arise when the liver energy, which has been stagnating due to suppressed emotional stress or anger, gradually turns to heat. Since the liver meridian rises to the head, the excess heat soon disturbs the mind, leading to headaches, irritability and difficulty falling asleep.
There should be a slowing down period before retiring when mental stimulation is gradually reduced. Practising relaxation for a few minutes every night, instead of spending time on Facebook, or watching TV, can definitely help. There are also many free meditation apps easily accessible on a smart phone. I find writing down all the things I need to do the next day before going to bed helpful in reducing a great deal of stress and anxiety before falling asleep. Adopting a regular exercise routine is also a great way to improve sleep and calm the mind.
Menopausal women are often victims of a familiar pattern called“deficiency heat”.
It occurs when the cooling Kidney Yin energy has become too weak to regulate its warm Yang counterpart. Since the Yang is not in excess, we see only partial evidence of heat rising to the head, while the hands and feet remain cold. Women who are affected get anxious easily, complaining of episodic night sweating, palpitations, and a light sleeping pattern disturbed by vivid dreams, or nightmares.
Another dysfunction occurs in patients who worry a lot, and who are afraid of changes. In Oriental medicine, fear and worry weaken the Gallbladder energy, which, in turn, affects the heart. The problem is not falling asleep, but waking up in the early hours already sick with worries, with the weight of the world on their shoulders.
For most long-term patterns, acupuncture treatments are supplemented with herbal medicine. Some Chinese herbs have sedative properties, which are similar to their Western counterparts valerian and chamomile. But the problem will not be solved until the specific underlying imbalances have been addressed. Additional herbs, which stimulate the blood, clear the heat, and harmonise the defective organs like the Liver, Gallbladder, Heart or Kidneys might need to be included to finally overcome the fear of darkness.
Olivier Lejus BHSc.MHSc. is a registered acupuncturist and Chinese herbalist practising in Sydney. A former casual university lecturer and tutor in Oriental medicine with over 15 years experience in clinical practice, Olivier specialises in Japanese- style acupuncture for the treatment of male and female infertility, migraine, pain, and insomnia.www.olejusacupuncture.com