Bedtime Before 11: The Secret to Feeling Refreshed after a Night's Sleep, A TCM Perspective

Bedtime Before 11:

The Secret to Feeling Refreshed after a Night's Sleep, A TCM Perspective

By Dr. Anna Gold

Have you ever wondered why, after a full night's sleep, you wake up still feeling tired? Then answer may not be due to the number of hours you sleep, but rather the hours that you are asleep. 

Sleep deprivation is an epidemic with correlations to countless chronic diseases: diabetes, chronic fatigue, weight gain, cardiovascular disease, immunodeficiency, hormonal imbalance, pain. It is important to get seven to nine hours of sleep in order for the mind and body to regenerate. However, according to TCM, the hours that you sleep is just as crucial as the number of hours you sleep. 

Do you notice why you get a second burst of energy if you stay up past 11PM? In the Chinese medicine tradition, the life force, known as Qi, moves through each of the 12 vital organs every two hours to revitalize and replenish the body. Every two hours, Qi moves systematically to a different organ based on the generating cycle of Five Element theory  - wood, fire, metal, water, earth -  in order to optimize its specific function. This 24 hour internal “Body Clock” is based on 12 hours of light/energy/yang and 12 hours of dark/rest/yin.

The cycle through which Qi moves is analogous to the circadian rhythm that is intrinsic to our bodies.  Physiologically, as our bodies adapt to the patterns of light and darkness, each hour of the day becomes optimal for certain activities. For example, the hours of 7AM to 9AM belong to the Stomach. Eating the biggest meal during the hours of the Stomach, ie. breakfast, we can extract the most energy from the food our bodies take in. 

It is important to be asleep before 11 PM because the hours between 11 PM and 3 AM belong to the wood element and its corresponding organs, Liver and Gallbladder. In TCM,  liver/gallbladder are Yin/Yang pairs responsible for the restoration of the nervous system, regulation of hormones and decision making.  In addition, Liver Blood is essential for the nourishment of our connective tissues and regulation of hormones.

When one is asleep during these hours, the replenishment of these bodily functions are deepened. Hence, one would feel more refreshed if she/he were asleep during Liver/Gallbladder time, than another block of time during the night. If you're feeling tired around 9PM, you're paying attention to your body's natural circadian rhythm. It naturally wants to wind down a few hours after the sun sets, when cortisol is suppose to lower. 

From a biological perspective, the pineal gland located behind the “third eye” is our body’s natural circadian timer. It detects when natural light begins to dim, and starts to adjust the body’s physiological functions to slow down by increasing melatonin as day transforms to night. In concurrence to the TCM perspective of sleeping before 11pm, research indicates that sleep quality is deeper and more restorative in non REM sleep, which occurs earlier in the night. In the early hours of the morning, our sleep patterns shift to REM sleep, which tends to increase heart rate and brain activity. 

If you push past that initial feeling of "winding down" at the end of the day, and stay up past 11 by stimulating the body with artificial light, caffeine or other substances, you may feel a second wave of energy late at night. This usually indicates an imbalance between melatonin and cortisol, the two hormones that regulate sleep/wake cycles.  Habitually staying up late at night slowly shifts the circadian rhythm, which can negatively affect natural hormonal cycles.

From a Chinese medicine perspective, staying up past 11PM depletes Liver Blood and Yin, which in the long term, can result in fatigue, irregular menstruation, depressive moods, and headaches.  It is more advantageous to be asleep during the hours of the Liver/Gallbladder, between 11PM and 3AM than any other time frame in order to feel most refreshed in the morning. 

If you are having trouble establishing a healthy sleep pattern, take BUILD SLEEP for a minimum two weeks to fortify your sleep, along with these tips in our blog post about the Essentials of a Good Night's Sleep.  These routines will support your journey to restful evenings, and consequently, energetic days.