It might surprise you to know just how many people don’t sleep well.
In Chinese medicine, asking questions about people’s sleep gives us lots of information about their health.
“Not sleeping well” can mean very different things to different people.
Sleep is so important because it is when a person replenishes their yin energy. Yin energy is the fuel source of our Yang energy. Another way to say that, is if you want to do any kind of activity at all (yang), you need adequate yin to do that.
Whilst this article is not an exhaustive list of possible diagnoses to explain a person’s sleep issues, here are three things that can impact the quality of your sleep:
Drinking too much coffee:
Caffeine has a half life of forever, and the further into the day that you are consuming caffeine, the more likely you are to have that moment when head hits the pillow, your brain says (with a bit of background circus music playing) “I am wide awake, and falling asleep could take ages tonight!”
Tip: Is it possible for you to cut back to 1 x coffee per day, and find another hot drink as a substitute for when you would reach for another coffee? Good substitutes include: bone broth, some kind of mushroom blend, herbal tea, or even a black tea.
Eating too much before you go to bed:
Overeating can be a major reason that a person’s system is not functioning well. I fully appreciate the layers of emotional complexity when it comes to eating and overeating.
In Chinese Medicine, and in Western Medicine, the Liver has an enormous list of jobs to do in the body. Overnight, the liver really wants to be freed up so it can do its job of cleaning and cleansing the blood overnight. It is a highly vascular organ, and another of its major roles is storing blood as well as cleaning blood.
If a person has eaten a huge meal quite late in the evening, and maybe also consumed a few beers or glasses of wine, the liver is not going to be able to tend to its blood cleaning chores, until its role in the digestive process has worked its way through that meal.
Tip: Try to have at least 2-4 hours of time between eating your dinner and going to bed. This helps the body in its digestive processes before you go straight to bed on a very full stomach.
Going to bed very late.
“They” say, that for every hour that you are asleep before midnight, equates to four hours’ worth of rest. Read that again.
Are you a night owl? You may have trained yourself to be that way. I know lots of mothers with young children that get most of their work done late at night when the household is asleep.
It’s not an easy juggle to balance the life/work thing. I get it.
But if you are someone who is having some sleep struggles, it might be helpful to have a trial period of being in bed by 9:30pm for a week or so (if you can), and see if it makes a difference to how you feel during the day.
In Chinese Medicine it is hard to have a hierarchy of organs of importance, as they are all fabulous and much needed. But I have to say the kidneys (you could say the adrenals here if you like), are super important, for daily life and longevity.
The notion of going to bed earlier is definitely one aspect of preserving and conserving the vital essence of the kidneys, rather than burning the midnight essence oil well into the yin time of the night.
Tip: give yourself a trial period of going to bed earlier for a week or so. You may need to read a book or do a yoga Nidra in bed as you change your routine, and then see if it has made any differences to your health (feel free at the end of your trial period to make this a new habit).
I hope that there was something in this list of ideas and tips that has been helpful for you.
Love Karina x
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Karina Smith is a Melbourne based Doctor of Chinese Medicine and Yin Yoga Teacher, Teacher Trainer & Educator. With a passion for women's health, through Yin and Chinese Medicine Karina aims to improve the health of her students, patients and clients.After years of dancing and its emphasis on performance, yoga was an unexpected beacon of self-care and restoration for Karina, where her relationship to movement shifted to something that was there to nourish her mind and body.
A year after commencing practice at the Australian Yoga Academy (AYA), Karina knew she wanted to do the yoga teacher training on offer there - and from thereon it has been a deep-dive into the rich offerings of this ancient practice.
Karina has now studied and taught yoga extensively - including two 350hr Teacher Trainings (AYA and Shantarasa Institute, India), studies under the renowned Bernie Clark and Paul Grilley, over a decade of teaching at numerous studios in her home town of Melbourne, and lecturing for The Australian Yoga Academy.
In 2018, Karina launched her own 50 Hour Yin & Functional Anatomy Teacher Training and continues to run this course. Karina’s love of Yin Yoga revealed a deeper fascination for human anatomy and led her to pursue Chinese Medicine. After graduating in 2019, she now runs her own clinic offering acupuncture, herbal therapies, moxibustion and cupping treatments.