What Waking Up At Different Times Of Night Could Mean For Your Health

According to traditional Chinese medicine, your emotional health is affected by the time of night you wake up.

You probably know that in the Chinese culture, there are many practices and philosophies related to health. This includes Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), which is an ancient system of healing based on a holistic approach to well-being. TCM practitioners believe that our emotional health and longevity are affected by the time of day we wake up during the night. Sounds a little strange, right? Here's what it means for you.

Tired woman standing near green leaf tree while holding her elbow with her right arm
Photo by Allef Vinicius

Are you finding it difficult to fall asleep between 9 and 11 p.m.? You may be feeling stressed.

woman feeling stressed and touching rainy glass
Photo by Milada Vigerova

If you're having trouble falling asleep between 9 and 11 p.m., it could mean that the energy you've accumulated throughout the day is still sitting in your gallbladder and liver. The body's organs have their own circadian clock, so to speak, and need their time to rest in each 24-hour period. According to Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), this is the time when what is known as the Triple Heater or endocrine system — a part of the body responsible for regulating temperature, fluid balance, metabolism and hormone production — works to regulate your body's equilibrium over night. It's also suggested to sleep at this time so the body can conserve energy for all of its activities during the following day.

Basically, if you're struggling to fall asleep, TCM believes that it could mean you're stressed. Of course, there are other reasons why we stay up late: living with someone who snores loudly; spending too much time in front of our TVs or computer screens right before going to bed; drinking caffeine too close to sleep time; eating heavy meals before going to bed; anxiety and depression; hot rooms with no AC or fan set on high temperatures making it difficult for us to get restful sleep...the list goes on!

If you're waking up between 11 p.m. and 1 a.m., it could mean that you're feeling emotional disappointment.

The gallbladder meridian rules between 11 p.m. and 1 a.m., so if you're waking up at this time, You may be experiencing emotional disappointment or resentment – yang energy keeps you active throughout the day and stores itself when you sleep.

If you are waking up during the gallbladder meridian cycle, according to TCM, it's important to process your feelings by journaling or talking with someone before going to bed. This way, your body can rest and store up energy for tomorrow.

1 a.m. and 3 p.m.:  A sign that you're feeling angry and frustrated.

woman feeling angry in brown sweater covering her face with her hand
Photo by Dev Asangbam

If you're waking up between 1 and 3 a.m. each night, it could mean you have unresolved anger, frustration, or resentment—and that the liver is most active during this time of night. The liver is responsible for ensuring the smooth flow of Qi (energy) throughout the body and mind.When we are angry, frustrated or resentful we disrupt the smooth flow of Qi in our body. When your liver Qi cannot flow freely, it will make itself known by waking you up at night to release that pent-up energy.

If you find yourself waking up between 1 and 3 a.m., keep a journal next to your bed and write down your thoughts before going back to sleep. You can also meditate or practice qi gong right before bed with the goal of releasing any anger or frustration that's been building up during the day. At some point, you may realize that anger isn't always a bad thing; instead, it can be constructive if used in specific circumstances as an opportunity for growth.

If you're waking up between 3 and 5 a.m., it might be because a higher power is trying to tell you something.

woman in pink dress holding black sunglasses
Photo by MohammadO Shokoofe

If you are waking up between 3 and 5 am, it is because your body has excess energy in the lung meridian. If you wake up with anger or frustration during this time, it’s because there is an emotional block that needs to be released. The organ of the lung is associated with grief, sadness, and loss. It could also indicate a loss of identity, a blocked purpose, or being stuck in life.

The ancient Chinese believed that the higher power was trying to tell you something through this message from your body. Try listening to soothing music or doing breathing exercises that can help clear chest congestion and dissipate negative emotions before getting out of bed.

If you're having trouble sleeping at night, try going to bed earlier so you can get a better night's rest.

person lying on purple bed
Photo by Andrew Coop

If you keep waking up at the same time, it's a sign that your body isn't getting enough sleep. Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) doesn't see sleeping during the night as a continuous block of time for one reason: because it isn't. The night is divided into different two-hour periods, each with its own name and corresponding organ. If you're regularly waking up early, between 1:00 – 3:00 am for example, TCM says that your liver needs support.

You may not think of your liver as having much to do with sleep, but it actually stores your blood when you're sleeping and is responsible for making sure that there's enough blood in circulation when you wake up in the morning. When there isn't enough blood circulating through your liver, you'll wake up every night around the same time and feel tired when you wake up in the morning.

When this happens, TCM recommends going to bed earlier and getting more sleep to help prevent waking up during the night. You can also practice some self-massage on your feet to stimulate the reflexology points related to your liver to help improve its circulation and get back on track with a healthy sleep schedule.

The Bottom Line:

Chinese medicine has a lot to say about our slumber at night and what they mean for us. 

Traditional Chinese medicine has been studying the effects of sleep for thousands of years and has a lot of wisdom about sleep, including the different times we wake up at night and what they mean for our well-being.

According to TCM, it's important to have the right balance of Yin and Yang energy in your body. Yin energy is what helps us stay calm and relaxed while Yang energy keeps us active and energetic.

Each organ system in your body has its own daily restoration plan, which means that each one needs to be treated differently in order to facilitate repair or healing. Understanding that every organ has a specific plan will give you a better understanding of how to treat yourself for better health and well-being. It also enables you to pinpoint which organ system or emotion needs strengthening.

PS: Anxiety and stress can affect your life in many ways - but there are simple things you can do to reduce the stress in your life and relieve your anxiety. Learn 9 powerful tips to feeling calmer here.

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