Calm Down Your Liver and Sleep Better is The Chinese Medicine Way

 I enjoyed this article from China Daily and thought it contained enough common sense to help with a good nights sleep. Sometimes we overlook the simple answers to healthy sleep habits. . So here it is.

Since one third of our lives are spent in bed, it is hard to overlook the significance of sleep.

Tips to improve sleep, from Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) theories to clinical practices, can therefore benefit your life.

TCM practitioners believe that spring and the liver have the same property of "mu" (wood), thus the liver tends to be over-active, making people touchy.

The stomach and spleens have the "tu" (earth) property and is the opposite of "mu". If the opposition between these two properties becomes too strong, people will feel uncomfortable.

"Obviously, being angry and uncomfortable makes it hard to fall into sleep," says Dr Li Haicong, director of the Office of Geriatrics at the China-Japan Friendship Hospital in Beijing, who is also an experienced TCM practitioner.

The solution is to calm down the activity of the liver, and to reduce the burden on stomach and spleen, which can be fulfilled by a light diet and gentle exercise.

"Do not have too much strong-flavored food. Avoid intake of stimulating food or drink, such as pepper, alcohol and coffee," Li says. He strongly recommends foods such as  fish, pork, duck, lily root, Chinese yam, asparagus lettuce, lotus seed, apples and bananas.   Chicken, mutton, beef and oranges are not advisable in spring.

"Aerobic exercises, such as jogging, playing badminton and swimming, are also beneficial to good sleep," Li adds.Aerobic exercises will improve oxygen consumption and will prepare the body for peaceful sleep. But it should be done at least three hours before going to bed.

Taking a nap between 11 am to 1 pm, a traditional practice in China, is healthy, too, although many people have dropped the habit due to their faster-paced life.

"A nap should not be too long. About 15 to 30 minutes is enough," Li notes. "The quality of sleep is more important than the length."

For the elderly, who often have insomnia, perhaps due to chronic diseases, a good night's sleep is extremely important.  Li and his colleagues have found that a restful sleep will improve the condition of patients, which will in turn improve the sleep. And vice versa.

"If patients cannot sleep well, taking some TCM will be helpful, but that must be conducted under a doctors' guidance," Li says.

Chinese Medicine and Insomnia Symptoms

no insomnia with chinese herbs

Insomnia, whether for a prolonged time or a short duration is a dreaded cycle that can drive us to the brink of insanity. There nothing worse than being so tired all day long that we just can’t think straight. When you finally hit the pillow you sleep only a few hours  and can’t get back to sleep. People cope with insomnia in different ways, some start their day at 4 AM  because “there is just no sense in staying in bed” others rely on prescription drugs. Regardless of how you decide to cope with the lack of sleep here’s a quick look at insomnia from the Chinese medicine perceptive. This little insight or different perspective,  may help you change whatever is going on in your life that’s affecting your sleep patterns


Chinese Medicine, practiced continuously now for over 2000 years, categorizes insomnia into 4 main groups.  

1.       Insomnia due to over-thinking or disharmony between work and rest. When it’s time to sleep your mind should not be thinking of all the days plans, all that worries you or what needs to be done tomorrow. Your mind should simply not be talking to you. Your mind should be active during daytime hours and quiet at night.  There are many techniques in Chinese medicine to help you quiet your mind such as Tai Qi, meditation, exercise and other stress reducers.  A proper discussion of these techniques will be addressed in another article. Herbal medicines can help stop these over thinking habits and help quiet your mind without being addictive. 

2.      Insomnia due to sickness or advancing age. When we are extremely weak and/or recovering  from an illness it is not uncommon to have sleeping difficulties. During this time both qi and blood are deficient which nourish our heart, kidney and spleen channels of Chinese medicine. Rebuild and replenish yourself with a proper diet and supplements and this pattern will subside.

3.        Insomnia due to panic, anger and excessive worry will gradually lead to chronic insomnia. This pattern is especially worrisome because of  it’s chronic, (ongoing) nature. Emotions that are buried and not addressed during the daytime hours may in a sense, haunt us at night. These emotions cause a deficiency of heart qi  and transform and flare up disturbing the mind at night. Dealing with emotional problems during waking hours will prevent this type of insomnia.

4.    Insomnia due to spicy, fatty, raw and even cold food late at night. This type of insomnia is the easiest to change. Simply stop eating 3-4 hours before going to bed. Over eating from a Chinese Medicine perspective  leads to phlegm and  heat and both interfere with restful sleep. The body cannot optimize digestion late at night. Your body needs time to process the foods eaten during the day and clean itself out.

These four patterns cover the gamut of sleeping problems in Chinese medicine. Some people suffer from just one pattern, (typically # 1)  others suffer from a combination of them. Once you identify your pattern you can take steps in your life to make the necessary changes to give your body and your mind the rest it needs.