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A Bit About Sleep and Chinese Medicine

Kitten sleeping face up
I admit, sometimes I just want to grab people's attention with an adorable photo.

While I used to rock n’ roll all night until the wee hours of the morning, nowadays I rebel against the Man by popping a multi-vitamin and crawling into bed around 10pm. Although my coolness factor goes down dramatically as a result of this, I’ve learned I functioned best when I sleep from 10pm to 6am. Party on! Of course, I’m human, and like everyone else, I have a night of restless sleep here and there. This was the case the other night, so I elected to make up for it the following night by partying even harder and going to bed at 9pm. As my husband and I got into bed, I found myself explaining to him the importance of sleeping before midnight and how much more restorative that sleep was compared to sleep banked after midnight. I call it Yin Sleep.

Score points for mom and grandma again, because those hours slept before midnight are more or less worth two. Sleep science and neuroimaging of the brain asleep confirms while we continue to move through 90-minute sleep cycles throughout the night, most of the deep, dreamless, and restorative sleep we need to function optimally occurs in those hours before midnight, at some point after midnight, that balance shifts towards more active, REM-type sleep, which, while beneficial, doesn’t confer the same benefits as the deeper delta and theta wave sleep.

But what does when you go to sleep have to do with Yin and Yang, and why does that matter anyway? Within the paradigm of qigong and Chinese medicine, there is a constant interplay of Yin and Yang in all things: the universe, our bodies, the car you drive, you name it. Within this interplay, Yin represents the more substantial parts of our bodies, think blood, fluids, that sort of thing, and Yang represents the warming and propelling aspects in our bodies, like the heartbeat that pumps the blood or impulses from our nervous system that send messages to fire muscles. Midnight represents the darkest, most Yin time of the night, so the hours leading up to it are hours where Yin is growing in nature, or more dominant. After midnight, Yin begins to wane, as Yang gradually becomes the more dominant element until eventually the day breaks. This waxing and waning of Yin and Yang goes on every day. From this paradigm, it makes sense why sleep we get in the more Yin time of the night nourishes the more Yin aspects of our bodies. While we sleep our Yin organs regenerate, our body pumps out growth hormone, and in this way, we wake up refreshed and ready to start the day.

My students often ask if it’s okay to practice qigong just before bed and the answer is absolutely yes. While I don’t recommend going into vigorous qi flow afterwards, an excellent thing to do just before bed is to perform 10 or so repetitions of Lifting the Sky. You can either do this standing up or sitting in bed. Afterwards, have a gentle thought of getting a good night’s sleep and it’s off to dreamland for you. Not familiar with Lifting the Sky and interested in learning about how Cosmos Qigong might help your sleep, among other things? Sign up here to be notified when registration for our next introductory qigong class starts.

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