The Unexpected Root Cause of Your Sleep Troubles

by Hannah Fries |

The Unexpected Root Cause of Your Sleep Troubles

Hi, are you awake? Me too...

We spend about one third of our lives asleep… hopefully. American Sleep Association revealed that 50-70 million US adults suffer from a sleep disorder.

“When someone is in a chronic sleep-restricted state they’ll notice excessive daytime sleepiness, fatigue, clumsiness, and weight gain or weight loss. Moreover, lack of sleep can impact brain function

Often sleep problems can result from a digestive disharmony, followed by an array of other issues. While sleep deprivation itself can lead to a host of issues throughout the bodymind, it can also stem from imbalances occurring outside the expected sleep-associated realms. 

A calm Mind is like a gentle lullaby

“If the Mind is calm and balanced, a person sleeps well. If the Mind is restless, the person sleeps badly”.

According to Chinese Medicine principles, the quality of sleep primarily depends on our state of mind (Shen) and Ethereal Soul (Hun).

The Shen and Hun are two spirits present in the blood of the Heart and Liver respectively. The abundance and balance of Yin and Blood of these organs offers a layer to soothe the soul at night. Any imbalance between the two makes them swift away from their origins, leading to a disturbed sleep.

Liver and Heart systems are mainly associated with sleep disorders. However, different other organs like the Spleen, Gallbladder, and Kidney also play a role. In Western meanings, this is closely associated with mental-emotional, digestive, and hormonal imbalances, contributing to sleep troubles.

To identify the root cause of your sleep difficulties, we can take an in-depth look into the symptoms as well as the constitutional and contextual factors for better knowledge. Let’s get an insight into the some of the common causes of insomnia according to Chinese Medicine.

Why aren’t you sleeping?

Tossing and turning through the night due to physical agitation (which may also be present during the day), night sweats, palpitations, heat, and disturbing dreams is indicative of Kidney and Heart Yin deficiency. This type of pattern is often seen in menopausal folks.

However, if your racing mind makes it impossible for you to fall asleep and you get feelings of anxiety, lethargy, forgetfulness and distraction, the root cause can be most likely a weak Spleen, alongside deficient Heart Blood. This type of chronic insomnia comes with frequent nightmares, and is common amongst students, elderly, chronically ill patients, and those prone to excessive worry and rumination. Here, it is important to adopt and implement practices and natural remedies to restore sleep and mitigate stress. Since the Spleen functions to transform energy from food into Qi and Blood, nutritional interventions also promote healthier digestion.

Digestive disharmony in the form of indigestion can also contribute to restless, dream-disturbed sleep. It’s caused by over-eating/drinking creating phlegm accumulation and heat that disturbs the Mind. Nourishing the gut through diet/herbs, eating at regular intervals (not too late at night!), and avoiding too much alcohol and spicy or greasy foods can help relieve this type of sleeplessness.

High stress and emotions that cause Liver Qi stagnation like anger, anxiety, or shock contribute towards insomnia. People with Liver Qi constraint also experience irritability, worry and fatigue throughout the day. They’ll often consistently wake up around 3am - when Liver energy prevails. Women with Premenstrual Syndrome most commonly suffer from this. Other important emotions like grief can damage the Lungs and disrupt the sleep patterns. However, these are more clearly evident at 5AM when the Lung Organ System becomes highly active.

In case of deficiency of Liver Blood that often happens after menses or due to heavy menstrual bleeding, failure to fall asleep is followed by daytime fatigue, emotional instability, dizziness, and possibly blurred vision.

For those who wake up early in the morning and cannot fall back to sleep, a weak Gallbladder is often to blame. Such people are more likely prone to being easily afraid, poor decision-making, and lack of hope too.

Sometimes, sleeplessness is secondary to allergies, acute illnesses, or other temporary external factors, such as sensory disturbances (noise, lights, room temperature, etc). As we move into Spring, allergies tend to be a common source of sleep troubles, since an overactive immune response keeps the Wei Qi on guard at night, when it is supposed to retreat inward. 

 No one-size-fits-all approach to treating sleep disturbances

So, if you are stressing about something that is hindering your much-awaited sleep, it is important to understand the factors that are accountable and emerging into your life. If you’re lucky, the solution may be as simple as sleeping with an eye mask, but if the problem is persistent, chances are your emotions, digestion, or endocrine systems are also involved. A successful treatment plan takes into account your symptoms, and Chinese Medicine is the best possible solution you can have.

Hannah Fries is a California-based licensed acupuncturist and herbalist (L.Ac.), writer, and Integrative Body Psychotherapy allied professional. She seeks to discover & alchemize the psycho-emotional and spiritual roots of disharmony in the physical body to help her clients transform the obstacles that interfere with their innate healing capacity. Find out more about Hannah and her work on her website at or on Instagram @friespirit.

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