Do you want to sleep like a baby or a log?

sleep like a babyI believe that many, or in fact, most of you have heard the phrase “sleep like a baby”. But actually, where does the phrase originate from? Personally, I don’t think using the analogy of a baby is a good reference as babies usually wake up crying at night or wake up and scream every 3 hours asking for milk.

After Bob Dole was defeated in the 1996 Presidential campaign, he said “I slept like a baby. I woke up every three hours and cried.”   Had he come for acupuncture for his sleep, we would have treated his grief and trauma which would have calmed his Shen (soul in Chinese medicine) and he would have slept like a log.

Sleep changes as we age.  As a baby, we sleep about 16 hours a day, but obviously not all at once.   Research shows that babies actually don’t sleep deeply.  Deep sleep happens as they age to toddler status, which is why you can pick them up, move them around, and they just keep on sleeping.   As kids become teenagers, their sleep patterns can change due to a change in circadian rhythms.  Often this manifests as wanting to stay up later, and get up later.  (See they really can’t help themselves!)

According to Psychology Today, young adults slowly shift into the standard sleep/wake rhythm that is characteristic of adulthood.  The evolution of sleep does not stop with adulthood. As we age, there are a number of things that affect sleep.  I’d like to look at it from a Traditional Chinese Medicine perspective.

Sleep from a TCM perspective

In Chinese Medicine, sleep is the time when the surface energy of the body goes internally to get replenished; the blood of all the organs returns to the Liver to be restored and redistributed.   In Western medicine, it is the only time when HGH (human growth hormone) is generated to heal the tissue that we break down and damage throughout our normal movements in a day.  Sleep becomes especially critical in healing injuries as replenishing damaged tissue is critical in the healing process.  Often when we have an injury, we have trouble sleeping because of the pain of the injury, thus negatively affecting the healing process.  It can become a vicious cycle.  We can’t sleep because of the pain, but we can’t heal because we can’t sleep.

That’s when acupuncture can help alleviate the pain so that the sleep can happen and healing can occur.

Types of sleep disturbances

As I mentioned, in Chinese Medicine and at RiverWest Acupuncture, we care about the details of why you aren’t sleeping.  Not being able to get to sleep is different than not being able to stay asleep.   Listed below are a few of the differences in disturbed sleep and what the associated meridian/organ is:

Dream-disturbed sleep:

Nightmares normally indicate a disorder of the Gall Bladder meridian. Dreams in which we go over and over the same ground, walking in a maze, reliving aspects of our jobs or our relationships generally are due to a Spleen/Heart imbalance. People with this problem say, “I can’t shut my mind off.”

Difficulty falling asleep:

This is usually related to an excess condition of the Liver or Liver and Gall Bladder. People will lie awake, tossing and turning for hours.

Waking up easily:

Many people can fall asleep easily, but then they wake up later and find it difficult to go back to sleep again. They may be awake for an hour or so, or may not go back to sleep at all. These people have a deficiency pattern, often a Heart/Spleen deficiency.

Waking up at a specific time every night:

For example, some people regularly wake up at three o’clock in the morning. In Chinese medicine theory, the body’s energy (Chi) circulates through the twelve principal meridians over a 24-hour period. Each meridian relates to an internal organ. If a person wakes or has some unusual symptoms at the same time every day, it is probable that there is an imbalance in the organ system that is “highlighted” at that time of day. Energy peaks in the Liver meridian at 3:00 a.m., which is why people often wake up then. Liver problems can result from unexpressed anger, stress triggering Liver Chi stagnation, and Liver Fire.


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