In traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), sleep is part of the natural rhythm of yin and yang in the body.
Yin and yang are opposites: When we sleep, yin is the dominant force in the body. In the day, when we are active, yang dominates. Insomnia is a sign of a disruption to one’s natural rhythm of yin and yang.
Insomnia can arise from a secondary cause, such as chronic pain, said Ms Pansy Yeo, a TCM practitioner from Chong Hoe Health Products Chinese Medical Store.
Otherwise, TCM practitioners believe insomnia is caused by emotional upheavals, an improper diet, physical exhaustion and a weak constitution following prolonged illness.
Ms Yeo said the ideal time to sleep at night, according to the meridian clock, is between 11pm and 1am.
This period corresponds with the gall bladder meridian, which plays a role in clearing out toxic by-products of the body’s metabolic processes, she explained.
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One is even encouraged to take a short nap between 11am and 1pm, which corresponds with the heart meridian. The heart houses a person’s shen (spirit), which governs sleep, she added.
Insomnia can be traced to the following five syndromes:
LIVER QI STAGNATION LEADING TO HEAT
Causes: An outburst of anger – which is associated with the liver – can affect the flow of qi and cause it to stagnate in the liver.
Qi stagnation will result in poor blood circulation to the heart, affecting sleep patterns.
With qi stagnation, heat or “fire” accumulates in the liver, leading to symptoms affecting the upper body, since heat rises naturally.
Symptoms: Headaches, rising eye pressure, high blood pressure, tinnitus (ringing in the ears), a bitter sensation in the mouth and a red tongue.
The person may have difficulty falling asleep and, when he does, experiences lots of dreams, a sign of an overstimulated mind.
Food remedy: Make tea with chrysanthemum flowers and peppermint leaves to improve the flow of qi in the liver.
Causes: Over-indulgence in food or irregular eating habits may cause poor digestion. Likewise, a diet high in fats and sugar allows dampness to accumulate in the body and cause qi stagnation. Untreated dampness progresses to become phlegm, which causes internal heat to build up.
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Symptoms: Indigestion, stomach distension and, possibly, acid reflux.
The person may also experience dizziness, heaviness of the head and discomfort of the chest. He becomes irritable and suffers from insomnia.
Food remedy: Consult a TCM physician who may give you a prescription that includes herbs such as tangerine peel, pinellia tuber and poria.
HEART AND SPLEEN DEFICIENCY
Causes: The earlier syndrome of liver “fire” will affect the function of the spleen, which in TCM is believed to govern digestion and absorption of food.
When the spleen fails to absorb enough nutrients to nourish the heart “shen”, a person’s mental health is also affected.
Symptoms: The person may find it difficult to fall asleep and, even when he does, he is easily roused.
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He experiences forgetfulness, heart palpitations and gastrointestinal problems such as abdominal distension and loose stools.
Food remedy: Prepare pork rib soup with Chinese yam, poria and dried longans.
HEART AND KIDNEY DISHARMONY
Causes: When the kidney is deficient in yin (the element responsible for cooling organs) because of age or end-stage illnesses, it fails to regulate yang (the element linked to heat) in the heart.
As a result, the normal rhythm of the yin and yang in the body is disrupted.
Symptoms: Heart palpitations, giddiness, tinnitus, night sweats, as well as aching back and knees.
Fertility may also be affected if women experience irregular periods and men experience involuntary ejaculation.
Food remedy: Make tea with dendrobium that has been double-boiled for three hours. Sprinkle a dash of cinnamon powder before serving.
HEART AND GALL BLADDER QI DEFICIENCY
Causes: The first two syndromes of liver “fire” and phlegm heat can eventually lead to this.
Symptoms: The person will feel jittery, perspire easily, suffer from heart palpitations, shortness of breath and insomnia.
Food remedy: Cook porridge with one Chinese date, 3g of astragalus root, 3g of codonopsis root and 8g of poria.
This story was originally published in The Straits Times.