Sleep Tips from Traditional Chinese Medicine

Alex Chen
5 min readNov 12, 2023

I’m currently reading a book called 中医养生学, which in English means “the study of health maintenance in Chinese Medicine”. The book talks about many topics such as emotions, food, exercise, sleep, living environment, and lots more.

I recently finished reading the chapter on sleep, and there are lots of basic knowledge that I think we should all know, but many of us might not know. I personally don’t have sleep problems, but I know many people do nowadays, so I’ll share my learnings in this article.

I also previously wrote an article on sleep from a western medicine perspective, but this article offers different insights from a Chinese medicine perspective. I think both perspectives are valid and can be used to complement each other. Without further ado, let’s get into it!

1: What is high quality sleep?

There’s still a lot of debate about what makes high-quality sleep, but in general, we can use these criteria:

  1. Enters sleep within 15 minutes.
  2. Wakes up at night less than 2 times to use the washroom.
  3. Deep sleep; not easy to be woken up.
  4. No sleep talking, sleep walking, snoring, or teeth grinding.
  5. Feels refreshed after waking up; not groggy or still tired.

2: What makes a good sleep environment?

  • A good sleep environment should be quiet and peaceful. A noisy environment can make it hard to fall asleep or wake us up in the middle of the night.
  • We should take care to circulate fresh air every day. For example, we can open the windows for a set amount of time every day.
  • The bed should be a suitable size, big enough for us to turn and lie on either side.
  • The bedroom should be neat and organized, which helps us to keep a calm and peaceful mind. It shouldn’t be too cramped nor too spacious. It should feel comfortable.

3: What can we do before sleep to aid sleep?

Image Sources: 1, 2, 3, 4

3.1: Calm The Mind

Before sleep, it is best to do some calming and relaxing activities to enter a peaceful state of mind. For example, we can do meditation, such as taking deep breaths and focusing on our breathing while lying in bed. Or we can visualize being in a peaceful environment, such as lying on a beach and listening to the waves. As our mind calms down, our self-awareness gradually reduces, and we will enter sleep.

3.2: Soak Feet

A common Chinese tradition is to soak our feet in warm water at night before sleep. This helps to promote blood circulation and Qi circulation. The water temperature should be 40 to 45 degrees Celsius (104 to 113 degrees Fahrenheit), and the water should be high enough to cover the ankles. While soaking, we can rub our feet together, or use our hands to massage our feet. About 30 minutes is enough.

3.3: Massage

After soaking our feet, we should dry our feet with a towel, then we can sit on the bed and massage the Yongquan acupoint located on the bottom of our feet (see picture below). This point helps with blood circulation, reduces tiredness, and improves sleep quality. Massage each foot’s Yongquan acupoint 36 times (36 circles or presses); repeat 2 to 3 times.

Note: This book didn’t mention other acupoints, but there lots of acupoints that aid sleep, such as

  • Yin Tang: Helps to calm the mind. Also helps with headaches and dizziness.
  • An Mian: Helps to calm the mind and fall asleep.
  • Tai Chong: Helps to relieve stress, anger, and agitation.
  • Shen Men: Helps to calm the mind and ease all emotions.
  • Nei Guan: Helps to calm the mind and relaxes the chest.
  • Yong Quan: Helps a scattered mind to feel grounded.
Image Sources: 1, 2, 3, 4

You can use your thumb or fingers to massage it clockwise 30 times and then counter-clockwise 30 times, or do it for a few minutes on each point. If a certain point hurts, it means there’s a qi (energy) obstruction there. In that case, just apply however much pressure you can tolerate, and over time, the pain will reduce as the blockage reduces.

Massaging acupoints might not show immediate effects on the first night. Usually after a week or two, painful acupoints will hurt less, which means that the qi is flowing better there, and then you should notice some results.

3.4: Maintain Hygiene

Also, we should maintain good hygiene by brushing our teeth and, if needed, taking a shower. If we shower, make sure the water is not cold or too hot. Warm water is ideal.

4: What should we NOT do before sleep?

  1. Having excessive emotions, especially anger and worry, before sleep.
  2. Eating shortly before sleep, especially highly stimulating foods like coffee, tea, chocolate, alcohol, and greasy foods.
  3. Drinking (a lot of) water before sleep.
  4. Talk while lying in bed (because it makes us excited, and our lungs should rest while we are lying down).
  5. Having a very hot or very cold shower before sleep (use warm water).
  6. Doing heavy exercise. Mild exercise, such as walking indoors, is OK.

5. What should we avoid during sleep?

  1. Facing light while sleeping (Western medicine also agrees that the body rests better in pure darkness).
  2. Opening mouth while sleeping (easy for dust and cold air to enter).
  3. Covering one’s face while sleeping (impairs breathing).
  4. Having wind blowing on the body when sleeping (easy to catch a cold this way).

Conclusion

We spend around a third of our lives sleeping, and sleep is extremely important for our health. Unfortunately, many of us were never taught how to get high quality sleep in school, so it’s up to ourselves to do the research. Western medicine provided me with lots of great advice already, but I got an even more comprehensive understanding after learning the Chinese medicine perspective. Most of the advice is similar, but each has their own uniqueness. Hopefully, you got something useful for your sleep as well.

Originally published at https://www.weeklywisdomblog.com on November 11, 2023.

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Alex Chen

Passionate about self-cultivation, happiness, and sharing wisdom.