Insomnia: Waking at the Same Time Most Nights

In our last blog we saw that both circadian rhythms and the TCM meridian clock can greatly influence our body and our mind. These rhythms tell a Herbal practitioner a lot about a person’s general health and anomalies.

One of the easiest places to see this is with sleep patterns. Many of my patients complain about always waking at the same time. In the last blog we took a brief look at this.  We saw that the Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) meridian clock could give us great clues. If a person always wakes at 2:00 am, this is in the time of the Liver. Don’t worry, this doesn’t mean you have a serious liver problem; the word Liver is partly a translation issue.

Let me explain this in more detail. The acupuncture meridians are an energetic system, or a kind of ‘electrical system,’ of our energy patterns. These meridians have often been said to be rivers of energy called Qi (pronounced Chee). The meridians might be in our body, but there is no specific anatomical part that makes them up. They are more like radio waves. The organ associated with a meridian, in this case the liver, is not the cause of the meridian; the organ is more or less a physical artifact, or a physical condensing, of the Qi of the meridian. Put simply, the Liver meridian’s energy pattern deals with much more than the physical organ of the liver. As you might have noticed by now, I keep changing the capitalization of L (l)iver. Liver with a capital ‘L’ is the energy pattern and with a little ‘l’ is the physical organ.

In TCM there are 14 major meridians that conduct the flow of Qi throughout the body. Twelve of these meridians make up the 24-hour clock, with 2 hours each. The energy is constantly flowing through all of these meridians throughout the 24 hours, with each meridian having a 2-hour period of time as the primary meridian.  Yes, a meridian reflects the energy of its associated organ, but also it reflects other processes in us: thoughts, emotions, colours, sounds, seasons and even spiritual aspects. The meridians are coupled in pairs of Yin (receiving energy) and Yang (expressing energy) of one of the five elements – Earth, Metal, Water, Wood and Fire.

The Liver meridian that we started looking at above, would better be called the Yin aspect of Wood. If you consider the meridian’s electrical circuits, it is resistance or blockages (like stress) that reduce the flow of energy. This resistance also causes imbalance in the flow between meridians. So what we have to do is figure out what the resistance is; often it is of an emotional nature. Here is a basic list of emotions associated with the elements.

  • Earth – Empathy, sympathy, balanced giving and receiving
  • Metal – Grief and loss
  • Water – Fear and anxiety
  • Wood – Anger, jealousy, competition, frustration and resentment
  • Fire – Love, hate and joy

One of the first questions I would ask my patients when they wake at a specific time is: ‘Do you remember any dreams when you wake?’ If they are waking at 2:00am with dreams that have anger or jealousy as part of them, this would direct us to explore what in their daily world they are angry or jealous at. There are many reasons for dreams, but one of the things they do is ‘metabolize’ built up emotions in our life. If we work out what is making the person angry, we can often restore the flow of the meridian and thus change the sleep pattern. Sometimes simple self-reflection can solve the issue. I am of the firm belief that we do not have to go through long sessions of analysis to figure these things out. We often use Flower Essences or Medicinal mushrooms to help this area.

The flower essences I most often use for anger are: Blue Early Viola, Chamomile, Fireweed, Pussy–Toes Everlasting or Wormwood. I have included links for these so you can read more about their actions if you desire. You could also fill out our questionnaire to see which flower essences are appropriate for you. We could make you a custom Flower essence if you desire.

The most common medicinal mushroom I use is ReishiReishi would usually be ½ tsp. twice daily of the Super Food powder, or 2 capsules twice daily of the encapsulated product. I often suggest a person does Systemic (family) constellation work, if they feel the emotion is ancestral, or in their family of origin.

There are other things that could be going on besides emotions, of course. You might have to reflect on what is ‘toxic’ in your life that you need to get rid of. Perhaps the liver is influencing digestion. You get the idea: we have some clues; ask some questions and see how they reflect in our lives. Maybe you should do a D-tox.

Now remember this isn’t just a thing that happens at night. If you always feel exhausted at 3:30pm in the afternoon, we would be looking at the Bladder meridian, or possibly the emotions of grief or loss.  You might observe other patterns, like anxiety around 4:00pm, headaches late at night, or a sore lower back before dinner time. By looking back at the meridian clock, you may find some clues as to what is going on. Remember, the body never lies.

Often a person gets quite energized at a certain time of the day or night. Teenagers come alive in the evening, and their passion to be with friends might ‘Fire’ them on into the wee hours of Wood, especially if alcohol is involved.

Sometimes a person wakes caught up in a mental loop of guilt over some loss at 4:30am, and we can reflect back on the Metal energy and try to deal with it accordingly. Each one of the meridians also has certain responsibilities. Following is a basic list of these attributes:

  • Stomach – Nourishment of others; nourishment from outside
  • Spleen – Nourishment of self in every way
  • Heart – Connection to your spirit; circulation of Qi (energy); heart and mind working as one
  • Small Intestine – Communication (speaking, listening); perception; truth
  • Bladder – When to use our resources; being controlling
  • Kidney – Reproduction and creating things in life; our resources
  • Pericardium (aka Sex/Circulation) – Intimate relationships; protecting your heart; healthy boundaries
  • Triple Heater – Non-intimate relationships; social aspects
  • Gall Bladder – Determination and decision making; action
  • Liver – Internal plans; the vision for life
  • Lung – Barrier (skin) to the outside world; understanding what is of true value
  • Large Intestine – Letting go of impurities (of emotions and beliefs, past experiences) ; holding on to what is of value

Now that I have given you lots to contemplate, I must remind you of a famous quote: “Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar” (Sigmund Freud). This is to mean, you might have a sleep pattern that is different from other people, but quite healthy for you.

Some of the latest research shows that waking in the night and getting up to do something for 30 minutes to a few hours can be quite normal for some people. It is not my intention to cause you concerns about these above patterns, as they may reflect what is natural and normal for you — but we will have to wait for another blog to explore this aspect.