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Common Misconceptions of Healthy Living Part III: Sleep Patterns

Vancouver has always been deemed a "health-conscious" city, with its citizens following closely to the most current diet trends and active workout routines. From raw foods to aerobic exercises, every Vancouverite may think this is as healthy of a living as they can achieve. Although these trends undoubtedly were designed to promote healthy living, are they as beneficial to the body as they claim? How does Traditional Chinese Medicine view this type of lifestyle? Let's take a look at several key factors that construct a healthy lifestyle, including diet, water consumption, exercise, and sleep patterns.

Part III: Sleep Patterns

Remember pulling those all-nighters in college years, and thinking that sleep can simply be replenished the following day? Well, unfortunately, the body does not function in the way we would like it to; in other words, sleeping from 5am-2pm is not equivalent to sleeping from 11pm-6am. After reading this article, you may start appreciating those curfews your parents mandated on you during childhood.

Sleep patterns can easily become irregular and disrupted when living in an urban city, and in the long run will take a toll on the body. Many believe that, by sleeping longer hours, taking afternoon naps, or waking up later in the day will compensate for the late hours or lack of sleep. However, in the perspective of Chinese medicine, this is not the case. Different hours of the day correspond to the activity of different meridians. For example, the gallbladder meridian runs from 11pm-1am, and the liver meridian runs from 1am-3am. If the body is at rest during this hour, the blood supply in the body will begin to return into the liver and gallbladder and undergo detoxification, while stimulating new blood production. Nonetheless, if the body remains active during and after this period of time, the blood supply will continue its circulation throughout the system and unable to return to the liver and gallbladder. In turn, the detoxification cycle will not proceed, causing an accumulation of toxins in the blood, which will lead to a myriad of diseases. Therefore, even if one makes up for the hours of sleep at another time of the day, it will not aid in the replenishment of these two meridians or the blood supply.

Is it beneficial to sleep later into the day?

In fact, sleeping into the day is not at all beneficial to the body. The body is designed to function with the solar cycle; we wake up when the sun rises and go to bed when the sun sets. Sleeping into the day will prevent the body's yang qi from ascending, so despite whether the hours of sleep are caught up, one will still feel unrested and fatigued for the remainder of the day. Yang qi, as mentioned in previous articles, is the fuel for the body to maintain its daily functions, and is the ultimate source to one's energy level. Hence, when yang qi fails to ascend, it is unable to disperse throughout the body, depriving the body of sufficient energy. Moreover, the large intestine meridian runs from 5am-7am, and the stomach meridian runs from 7am-9am. If the system does not become active within this period, the large intestine is unable to perform its excretory functions, causing turbid toxins to remain in the body, and if breakfast is not consumed, the hyperactivity of the stomach will cause its acids to corrode the lining of the digestive system. Therefore, a prolonged period of this habit can lead to severe digestive illnesses.

What if your schedule does not allow you to have an ideal sleep cycle?

If this is the case, it is highly recommended that the schedule be modified to allow for a regular sleep cycle, as it is extremely crucial to one's well being. However, life is life, and the wind may not always blow in your direction. A method to slightly compensate for the sleep cycle is to take a half hour nap at midnight, and another half hour nap at noon. These two periods are considered the transitions between yin and yang, so allowing the system to rest during these periods will effectively aid the interchange, which will benefit the metabolic processes of the body.

What if your quality of sleep is poor even with a good compliance to the sleep cycle?

This is usually related to a disruption or an imbalance in the body, and can be caused by diet, constitution, or physical/emotional/psychological stress. Since the dietary factor has been discussed about in part I, let us focus on the constitution and stress factors. Cold-type and Heat-type composes the main constitutional factors that affect sleep quality. In cold-type constitutions, one is usually deficient in yang qi. Because the yang qi composes composes a protective external layer outside the body, when it is deficient, the body becomes unprotected. Without this protection, the body is prone to be disturbed by cold and yin pathogens in which are most prevalent at night, causing vivid dreams, light sleeping, and feeling unrested. In heat-type constitutions, the excess heat accumulated within will scorch the heart, disturbing the mind and spirit. The disturbance will evidently result in unrestful sleeping and nightmares as well. Hence, a balanced mechanism is extremely crucial to the quality of rest even with a routine sleep cycle.

Below are a few remedial suggestions that can be done at home:

Foot baths at night are especially effective for cold-type constitutions. Boiling a pot of water with some ginger and cinnamon, and add enough water until it reaches the knees. Soak for approximately 10-15 minutes, and repeat 2-3 times a week at night.

As for heat-type constitutions, dampening a towel in cold mint water and place on the forehead and chest for 5-10 minutes at night is quite helpful to aid sleeping. Repeat for 2-3 times a week at night.

Flower teas such as rose, osmanthus, lavender, and hibiscus flowers are great herbs to aid sleeping. Cold-types should add ginger and cinnamon, while heat-types can add mint and lemongrass with the flowers and steep for several minutes. This concludes the three part series of the common misconceptions of healthy living.

Hopefully, you have benefited from the information in this series. Stay connected for more interesting and informative blog posts to come!

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