According to TCM, poor sleep is one of the key underlying factors behind weight gain. What is the relationship between the two, and how can you improve sleep with TCM for weight loss?
Here’s what TCM expert Dr. Leonor has to say on the matter.
The Importance of Sleep in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM)
Sleep is integral to overall well-being in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM). Proper sleep nourishes the organs, giving the active organs energy to function and rejuvenate those resting (each organ is said to be active at a particular time of the day and at rest during the remaining time). It also replenishes the body’s Qi or energy and restores balance.
The Connection Between Sleep and Weight Loss from a TCM Perspective
According to Dr. Leonor, sleeping issues result from an imbalance between Yin and Yang, the two opposing but complementary forces that run through the body, and Qi.
Yin needs to be dominant at night, while Yang needs to be dominant during the day. Only then can the body rest well. An imbalance between Yin and Yang will negatively impact the body, including weight management.
The Role of Sleep in Weight Loss and TCM
How Poor Sleep Affects Weight Management According to TCM
According to TCM, not only does the number of hours of sleep matter but also the quality.
Disrupted/poor quality sleep can cause issues such as blood deficiency, Qi stagnation, and imbalances in the body, which not only leads to poor sleep but health issues such as mood swings, digestive problems, fatigue, and hormonal imbalance leading to appetite dysregulation, all of which lead to weight gain.
Dr. Leonor further adds that as per TCM principles, it’s important to fall asleep by 11 PM, as the period between 11 PM and 3 AM is when the Wood Elements (liver and gallbladder) are most active, clearing all waste from the metabolic system.
Not being asleep during this period makes the clearing process difficult and can even cause the accumulation of waste, leading to weight gain.
The Impact of Sleep on Qi and the Balance of Yin and Yang
When you’re asleep, the body is in a state of rest. No energy is being used up for activities such as digestion or movement. This gives the body time to focus on repairing and restoring whatever parts are needed, such as the tissues and organs. It also lets the otherwise constantly functioning organs take a much-needed breather.
More importantly, sleep resets the balance between the body’s Yin and Yang forces.
The Relationship between Sleep and Metabolism in TCM
Sleep and metabolism are closely linked in TCM, with disruptions in one leading to a disruption in the other. Sleep regulates metabolism; insufficient or disrupted sleep can cause imbalances in the latter. Similarly, metabolism imbalance can lead to disturbed/restless sleep, insomnia, and fatigue.
Additionally, the liver is closely linked to metabolism and sleep in TCM. As mentioned earlier, the liver needs the body to be asleep between 11 PM and 3 AM to function efficiently, detoxifying the body and metabolizing nutrients. If the body isn’t asleep, the liver’s function is negatively impacted, negatively impacting metabolism.
This connection is what makes it possible to improve sleep with TCM for weight loss.
TCM Tips for Better Sleep and Weight Loss
Establishing a Consistent Sleep Schedule
A consistent sleep schedule is essential for promoting balance between Yin, Yang, and Qi in the body, which leads to good health. Sleep quality also improves with a consistent sleep schedule, as the body’s internal clock adapts to the sleep-wake cycle. Therefore, it can prepare for both phases accordingly.
Creating a Calming Bedtime Routine with Tcm Practices
A calming bedtime routine with TCM practices can improve sleep quality.
Practitioners can try winding down before bed by taking a warm bath, stretching, practicing gentle yoga, stretching, ingesting herbal remedies to promote relaxation, practicing light acupressure, using essential oils, practicing mindfulness through deep breathing exercises or meditation, and avoiding all electronic devices for at least 30 minutes before falling asleep.
Dr. Leonor finds that a dark, cool bedroom promotes good sleep while toning Yin energy. She also suggests starting a sleep journal to note down activities done during the day to understand better what helps sleep and what disrupts it. This will help practitioners optimize sleep and enjoy better weight loss benefits.
Acupuncture and Acupressure for Sleep Improvement
Dr. Leonor finds acupuncture and acupressure complement TCM sleep improvement and weight loss methods. Acupuncture (which involves the insertion of needles) promotes the release of endorphins and other hormones that aid relaxation and improve both sleep quality and quantity. These hormones also reduce appetite and water retention while improving digestion and sleep quality.
The thing is acupuncture, because it involves the insertion of needles, should only be performed by trained acupuncturists. However, the same pressure points can be stimulated with acupressure, which uses fingers to massage the points and can be done at home.
Dr. Leonor suggests stimulating the EM-13 and HT-7 for better sleep and the ST-36, CV-12, and SP-6 for weight loss.
Acupoint: EM-13 (Other Names: An Mian)
Location: The acupoint is located at the midpoint of the connection between the depression behind the earlobe and the depression below the occipital bone, and can also be found towards the hairline behind the ear. The location of the sleep point is about 1 cm below the protruding bone (mastoid process) behind the ear.
Acupoint: HT-7 (Other Names: Heart-7/Shen Men/Spirit Gate)
Location: Shen Men point is a special spot on your wrist that can make you feel better. It’s located between two bones in the middle of the lines on your wrist, close to your little finger. You can find it by looking for a little dent or by dividing the lines on your wrist into six parts and finding the spot that’s one-sixth of the way from the side of your little finger.
Acupoint: ST-36 (Other Names: Stomach-36/Zu San Li/Leg Three Miles)
Location: The acupressure point is located about four fingers below the knee and one finger beside the shin bone.
Acupoint: GV-12 (Other Names: The Governing Vessel-12/Shen Zhu/Body Pillar)
Location: located in a little hole on the outside edge of two muscles at the hairline on the back of your neck.
Acupoint: SP-6 (Other Names: Spleen-6/San Yin Jiao/Three Yin Intersection)
Location: located on the inside of your leg, about three fingers’ width above your ankle bone on the backside of your leg’s inner edge.
Herbal Remedies and Dietary Adjustments for Better Sleep
Besides acupuncture, Dr. Leonor finds herbal therapy to be a TCM sleep improvement technique effective for weight loss. Some TCM remedies she’s used and found effective include Zuo Jin Wan, Xiao Yao San, Gui Pi Tang, and Bao He Wan. Chrysanthemum tea can also help improve sleep and detoxify the liver, which helps weight loss.
Regarding dietary adjustments, the doctor believes the most important thing is to eat at least three hours before bed and eat limited portions. She also recommends more Yin-rich and neutral foods to remove any heat from the body (which is a source of weight gain) and give patients a good night’s sleep.
Therefore, you can improve sleep with TCM for weight loss.
However, Dr. Leonor cautions against using these therapies without proper diagnosis and prescription by a TCM doctor.
Incorporating Meditation, Qi Gong, or Tai Chi for Relaxation and Sleep Enhancement
Emotional factors are the most common and biggest causes of diseases that Dr. Leonor encounters. These are often the causes behind various physiological issues, such as weight loss and sleep.
TCM techniques such as meditation, Qi Gong, and Tai Chi are all proven stress relief methods. These effectively address emotional stressors as they treat the root of the problem and not just the symptoms.
TCM Principles for Optimizing Sleep Environment and Promoting Restful Sleep
As mentioned earlier, you can improve sleep with TCM principles such as keeping the bedroom quiet, dark, and cool, eliminating clutter, using natural materials for your linen and nightclothes, following a consistent sleep schedule, avoiding eating before bedtime, and even having the bed face the door (this promotes good Qi flow and prevents restless sleep).
Integrating TCM Sleep Practices with Other Weight Loss Strategies
Combining TCM Sleep Improvement Techniques with a Balanced Diet and Exercise
While you can improve sleep with TCM for weight loss, a balanced diet and exercise will enhance the effectiveness of these practices. Include fruits, vegetables, whole foods, and lean protein in your diet to improve sleep with TCM for weight loss. The variety of flavors and energy from these can keep your Qi balanced, provide necessary nutrients, and promote restful sleep.
TCM expert Dr. Gene Wei recommends starting the meal with protein and fiber for better satiety before moving to healthy carbs. Avoiding all refined flour, processed food, and excess sugar is also recommended. Dr. Yuan, another renowned TCM expert, suggests avoiding greasy and raw food.
Regular exercise can reduce stress and promote relaxation, which leads to better sleep quality. Gentle, slow movements before bedtime, like yoga or Tai Chi, can help.
Personalizing TCM Sleep Practices for Individual Needs and Preferences
Each body is different, so there can never be a “one size fits all” with medicine, according to Dr. Leonor. She suggests finding a good doctor and working one-on-one with her or him.
Addressing Stress and Emotional Factors That Affect Sleep and Weight Loss
Dr. Leonor says that sleep is very important for weight management, but changing a pattern can be difficult for patients. However, if you look at long-term results, you will find that this is the best strategy and can keep you motivated. Here is an article on how to reduce stress using TCM techniques for weight loss.
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