Sleep is the best medicine. It restores, repairs, and rejuvenates the body. Therefore, a good night’s sleep is the key to one’s level of function, health, and longevity. Healthy sleep habits involve regular sleep and wake cycles that provide quality sleep at night and alertness during the day.
Key components for a healthy sleep
To ensure a good night’s sleep, modern science has some excellent suggestions based on sleep research. These suggestions are referred to as sleep hygiene. These are key components for a healthy sleep:
• Maintain a regular bedtime schedule. Even on those occasions when you go to bed late, try to wake up at the same time the next day in order to maintaine your rhythm.
• Plan enough time ahead to get seven to eight hours of sleep. Avoid spending time in bed when you are not sleeping and taking naps during the day.
• Avoid using electronic devices, watching television, or reading books while in bed. The body needs to associate the bed with only sleep.
• Avoid eating big meals, taking stimulants such as tea, coffee, or chocolate, performing vigorous exercise, or having emotional conversations prior to bedtime.
• Make the bedroom a relaxing and quiet place. Keep the room temperature comfortable; it should not be too hot or too cold.
• Get enough exposure to sunlight during the day, and try to keep the bedroom completely dark at night.
Right time for sleep
In traditional Chinese medicine, a good night’s sleep is also considered critical to health. In addition to the suggestions that modern medicine offers, traditional Chinese medicine emphasizes the importance of the time of night we should sleep.
The ideal time for sleep is from 9:00 p.m. to 11:00 p.m. It is the time when the body’s energy (qi) circulates to the triple-burner (san jiao) meridians, a unique concept from traditional Chinese medicine. The triple-burner involves the organ functions in the chest, abdomen, and pelvis.
The upper burner spreads oxygen and blood to the rest of the body. The middle burner absorbs, metabolizes, and transforms the food into nutrients for the body. The lower burner reabsorbs water and gets rid of waste from the system.
Therefore, the triple-burner function determines normal body functions. It is extremely important that we take good care of the triple burner.
Energy circulates through a different organ system every two hours. Since there are 24 hours in a day, there are 12 stages of energy cycles. During the last phase of the 12 stages, the body enters the phase of restoration.
From 11:00 p.m. to 3:00 a.m., energy circulates through the gallbladder and liver, as discussed in Part 2.
In Chinese medicine, the gallbladder and liver regulate digestion, nurture the connective tissues (such as the ligaments of joints), regulate mood and sleep, support bone health, and regulate menstruation and reproductivity.
Having a deep level of sleep from 11:00 p.m. to 3:00 a.m. will help to prevent a number of health issues, such as migraines, fibromyalgia, depression, anxiety, irritable bowel syndrome, premenstrual syndrome, infertility, fibroids, and esophageal reflux.
From 3:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., energy circulates through the lung meridians. Therefore, having a deep level of sleep during this time is also very important. The lungs, in Chinese medicine, are responsible for breathing and spreading qi and oxygen to the rest of the body. They also help regulate water metabolism, and are connected with the function of the large intestines.
Lung energy makes people physically strong and very sensitive to sadness and grief. For people who have frequent upper respiratory infection, allergy, loss and grief, skin issues, and frequent urination or abnormal bowel movements, it is important to have a deep level of sleep at this time.
Dr. Jingduan Yang is a board-certified psychiatrist and a fourth-generation teacher and practitioner of traditional Chinese medicine. He practices integrative medicine in New York City, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey. His website is taoinstitute.com.