The Chinese Medicine Approach to Sleep

Admit it, sleep is an essential part of our life, it shouldn’t be seen as a waste of time. When you are sleeping well, you are giving your body plenty of time to rest and recover, both mentally and physically, so that we can wake up fresh and ready to perform at a high energy level the next day. Taking care of the quality of your sleep is the first step of taking good care of your overall health. Therefore, we understand how frustrating it is when a good sleep is hard to get. Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) recognises sleeping problems as a fundamental imbalance of energy, or yin and yang qi.

How Does Chinese Medicine Explain Sleep?

Day to Night, Yang Qi to Yin Qi

Traditional Chinese medicine views the sleep-wake cycle as a part of the natural rhythm of Yin and Yang in the body: Yang Qi is dominant is the day while Yin Qi is dominant at night. The Spiritual Axis (Lingshu, 靈樞) uses the Yin-Yang concept to explain sleep: “When Yang is depleted and Yin is abundant, one’s eyes are closed. When Yin is depleted and Yang is predominant, one is awake.”  On a daily basis, the Yin and the Yang energies in our bodies wax and wane, normal sleeping and waking cycles are therefore controlled by the balance of Yin qi and Yang qi in the body.

In TCM, sleeping problems are the result of imbalance of Yin and Yang qi, which means that Yang is not interacting well with Yin, and preventing restful, restorative sleep.

The Concept of the Chinese Body Clock

Rooted in TCM, our body’s various organs function and replenish themselves at different times of the day. During the course of the day, each organ has its own 2-hour slot, when it is most energetically active. During sleep, our Qi works inwardly and takes care of fully restoring the body. We are recommended to sleep before 23:00, mainly because 23:00-1:00 is the time for our bile to be released from gallbladder, which is a system in charge of Yang-qi. It is when our blood is running at full speed to clean itself of the day’s dead cells and repair damage. So, if we fall asleep before 23:00, our body will get sufficient Yang-qi, and thus help support a healthier body and mental state.

One of the most important time slots is 01:00 to 03:00, which belongs to the liver. By that time, we should be in a deep sleep phase, which is also the optimal time for our liver to nourish and clean the blood. If a person stays up late every day, the blood is not able to flow back to the liver for detox, thus fresh and clean blood is not produced. Without the nourishment of qi and blood, the organs are believed to fall out of balance, and will lead to serious health matters, as well as affecting emotional stability.

How Does Acupuncture Improve Sleep?

At LifeHub, we treat your sleep problem specifically, by asking in-depth questions to examine your quality of sleep, lifestyle, and eating habits to determine the contributing factors that led to poor sleep. This can help us to understand the root cause of your sleeping problems and to diagnose which kind of acupuncture treatment is best for you. Acupuncture treatment involves insertion of fine disposable needles on the meridians, which are around the neck, hands and feet for sleep problems. This technique encourages qi production and facilitates the process of Yang to Yin.

Other Tips for Better Sleep

  • Give yourself an acupressure massage

Located on the underside of the wrist, just under the bottom of the hand, is an acupressure point called shen men, which is used to improve the length and quality of sleep. Simply place your finger on this depression and apply pressure in a circling motion to massage it. After circling around 5 minutes, you should feel more relaxed and ready to rest.

  • Stick to a regular sleep schedule

Embrace our inner body clock and go to bed and rise with the sun regularly and consistently. This can keep our body in harmony with the universal Yin and Yang of nature. If we often sleep at odd hours we will definitely disrupt the proper flow of Yin and Yang, causing a range of sleeping complaints and wider health problems.


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  2. The yin and yang of sleep and attention.
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  4. Chen, Y.-F., et al. (2013). Effects of acupuncture treatment on depression insomnia: A study protocol of a multicenter randomized controlled trial.

Written by Dr Alen Liaw

Dr Alen completed his MBBS degree from National University of Singapore in 1988 and received training in Family Medicine with Ministry of Health (Singapore). Since then Dr Alen has received numerous addition degrees to broaden his expertise including a Masters’ Degree in Acupuncture (China Academy of Chinese Medical Sciences), certification in chelation therapy from ACAM (American College for Advancement of Medicine), and a Post Graduate diploma in Medical Toxicology (Cardiff University).

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