Do you know that 1 out of 3 people have insomnia at some point in their lives, and over 70 million Americans suffer from disorders of sleep and wakefulness? Most are waking up at 3am. If you suffer from a sleeping disorder yourself, you understand how deeply it affects your life. What most people don’t know is that sleeping disorders reflect an underlying psychological meaning; Traditional Chinese Medicine explains why.

Traditional Chinese Medicine and Qi

The ancient Chinese understood that our Universe is one giant holistic organism or body. Everything in it is connected and made out of the same substance they call Qi.

According to the Chinese, the laws of nature show us that all matter and Qi are interchangeable, and that matter is just a different form of Qi. Matter continually changes under the influence of Qi, which is why we cannot see our physical body separate from Qi. The ancient sages mastered different ways of cultivating Qi to support, heal, and strengthen the physical body. They understood that when all living things lose Qi, they lose their vitality.

Our bodies store Qi creating energetic pools, also called “Dan Tians.” From these pools, rivers flow, which we call meridians and shape our inner landscape.

The Movement of Qi

Meridians are energetic highways; they transport Qi, blood, and fluids along their pathway and to their related organs. All meridians in the body are interconnected and form a long cycle where Qi flows through creating a certain rhythm or ebb and flow, which is our body clock.

The Qi flow peaks in every organ in twelve two-hour intervals, making up the twenty-four hours in the day. Every two hours, the Qi in one organ is at its strongest, while for another organ on the opposite side of the clock it is at its lowest. For example, during the time between 1 am – 3 am, the Liver is at its summit, whereas the small intestine, with its peaking time at 1 pm – 3 pm, is now at its lowest point.

Chinese Organ Clock explains why we're waking up at 3am

How the body clock relates to your sleeping patterns

We do not only digest our food but also our thoughts and emotions; this is called the Emotional Digestive System. 

The body stores all the events taking place in our daily lives. You probably have experienced this yourself. If you have had a stressful day, by the time you go to bed and lie down, you feel the stress still coursing through your system. What you are feeling is the accumulation of all the thoughts, feelings, and emotions of the day and beyond. Whatever the body cannot digest, it will store it as tension instead; for decades even, if left untouched.

The only time we make for metabolizing the tension is when we are asleep. It is generally well known that we process the day during sleeping hours. But sleep was never meant to do just that. When we sleep, Qi is drawn inward to recharge our bodies. The undigested events taking place in our daily lives impact our sleep and our organs’ ability to function optimally and inhibits our body’s ability to heal, recharge, and replenish itself. As a result, we wake up the next morning still feeling exhausted.

By using the body clock, we can analyze what psychological issue is disrupting our sleep at a particular time and determine how to regulate our sleeping pattern.

Please note: my approach to each organ is very generalized and will offer a broad idea of how each emotion affects our system. I am not able to cover the myriads of ways we deal with each challenge our pain and trauma bring for us individually.

Waking up between 11 pm to 1 am – Gallbladder:

Resentment is the bitterness that comes from anger and is stored by the Gallbladder; this causes Qi to stagnate and generate ‘heat’ (inflammation/ infection), which damages the body. Heat agitates our spirit and keeps us awake. Thoughts will be going wild, making it hard to go to sleep.

Solution: When we act against our wishes, resentment is born. Understanding this will not be enough to make the feeling disappear, but realizing what values you have betrayed will. By blaming others, you trap yourself in the superficiality of the situation. Taking responsibility is not to surrender and passively accept what it was that brought about your resentment, but it means to take back your control. Where that which you are blaming no longer has any power over how you feel about the situation. In this space of calmness, quietly contemplate what values you have betrayed.

Waking up between 1 am to 3 am – Liver:

Irritation, frustration, and anger have the same origin. The Liver is the master of the free flow of Qi in the body and on an emotional level, it correlates to freedom of self-expression; when this becomes restricted, it births anger. Freedom connects to space.

A lack of personal space infringes upon our authentic self-expression. Who we surround ourselves with we get infected by, whether we like it or not. Over time we change ourselves to fit the ideas of others; it creeps into our ways of being. For example, to keep the peace, we submit, or to accommodate the needs of others, we go along with what do not want. In all situations, we change ourselves to suit those around us.

Solution: to resolve our anger, we must understand how we unconsciously value the thoughts of others over our own; this is much easier said than done. We have been brought up to comply, submit, and yield to those with authority. How others see us determines how we feel about ourselves much more than we like to admit. Anger is quite the gift. It shows us where we have betrayed our ideals, values, and virtues in life. In silence, learn to understand your anger. What brings it about? It is never the other person; instead, ask yourself where you have lost sight of who you are. Forge your truth as an inner rebellion and stand firm in it. All else will follow. Be patient.

Waking up between 3 am to 5 am – Lungs:

The lungs store grief and sadness. As a result, we collapse inward, which is a considerable burden on our body. Sorrow is a product of loss, not necessarily the loss of a loved one. The most common, underestimated, and overlooked source of grief comes from a loss of self. When we lose touch with who we are, sadness gestates.

Solution: to heal from the loss of a loved one is complicated and very different for each person; I will not discuss that here. I will touch upon the loss we feel losing sight of who we are.

The first point of contact is your physical body. How long has its been since you considered its trials caused by the unconscious detrimental choices you make? It carries tremendous loads of suffering and pain for us. In our attempt not to feel our pain we disassociate. Ungroundedness is one of the most common ways we escape reality. A chronic disassociation causes us to disconnect from ourselves. As a result, we become out of touch with the world, experience brain-fog, and it becomes harder to feel our emotional state. Become conscious of how you are running away from reality; it is exhausting. Allow yourself to stop and standstill. In a calm space, make time to feel and digest your emotions.

If what you are experiencing in a brief moment of surrender is too overwhelming, do not continue and seek professional help. You need the tools to navigate the emotional landscape. I cannot offer you these through the written word. I can only show you what might be disturbing your sleep.

Between 5 am to 7 am – Large Intestine:

This organ is related to emotional constipation, not speaking your truth and holding your emotions in. Emotions are a natural part of being human. When expressed, they do not harm your body, but when you suppress them, emotions will stagnate and cause damage. Resulting in a multitude of possible symptoms. From digestive problems to infertility, and not to forget sleeping disorders.

Solution: are you the type that swallows their emotions rather than expresses them? It is essential to realize that your feelings have validity. Do not override them by thinking that you shouldn’t have certain emotions. How often do you find yourself thinking that anger or sadness is wrong, and you should be more compassionate or joyful instead?; this undermines what you are experiencing at that moment.

False positivity is another common way to override our feelings. This philosophy plays trickery on us. At times when life is not all rainbows and sunshine, the sorrow and pain are still there but unacknowledged. Over time, these emotions build. Only what we are conscious of, we can digest or transmute.