Many want but cannot receive.
Many despise sleep as useless.
Many enjoyed it.
Many are clawed by the Sleep Devil = no matter how much isn't enough.
I will explain categorically the Why, How, What and When sleep's mechanism in our body with a TCM lens and science backup in this article.
Why do we need to sleep?
Quite a no-brainer, ain't it? We all need it, but how much? Ah, this is the question.
My answer = as much as you feel fresh when you're awake. Many people in Singapore don't feel fresh after waking up from a night of sleep, they often feel the following:
Alot of dreams
Waking up multiple times
Waking up with urgency to pee
Difficulty falling back to sleep after waking up
Lethargy when waking up
All these are pathological issues = these are illnesses that are hinting at body imbalances, that we cannot use alcohol, sleeping pills etc to get rid of. Our body is an incredible machine, science now hasn't fully fathom 100% of the functions, if we use Western medicine to deal with sleep issues....
We're twirling around a dangerous animal that may devour us like a ticking bomb, without a chance to turn back. Ask those on long term medication of Western drugs, they'll tell you.
When our sleep is disturbed for 2 nights, we must deal with it more than the issue of not pooing for 2 days (3-4 days then is something to worry over). Why?
Because sleep is the only daily function critical enough to handle our future life = sleep repairs our whole system for our day functions. We must worship good sleep as much as worshiping good food or money or love.
What makes sleep good?
Feeling fresh in the morning
No aches and pains upon waking
No nightmares to be reminded of
In TCM, not attaining all of the above warrant a visit to the TCM doctor, it means an imbalance in the body that needs balancing with herbs and/or food strategy.
Time to sleep
Unless you're a highly accomplished guru, please sleep before 11.30pm. This is the time the liver kicks start the detox function in the body. This sleep is crucial for the function to be carried out well.
Some think that as long as one is doing nothing stressful, they can sleep less/later. Well, no car can be serviced if it's running, it has to be off before the servicemen can do something to it.
This is the same as sleep.
As long as we're doing something, anything, the body cannot detox and repair itself, because it's still running. It's simple as that. Unless.
Our accomplishment of meditation skill is good enough to replace sleep, but in my experience so far, I've yet to see more than 2 who has achieved that. Many can't even feel rested with meditation, because many teacher taught it wrong.
But I'll leave that to another day.
What happens when we sleep?
Science has said that sleep = repairing + detoxing our body system, in TCM, it's far more than that.
In the TCM perspectives, sleep is the only time where the body Yin and Yang work together to synergise the food received in the day for storage in the bone marrow and Kidneys, repair, regain the Qi and blood lost or exhausted in the day at work. It's a process of rejuvenation for every single organ in the body.
Rejuvenation, yes, it's this big.
The ancient Chinese value sleep alot, especially for babies and teenagers.
It was said that babies and teenager (both on a growth spurt) who don't receive enough sleep at night = health issues in the middle age and twilight years.
Do we see more and more elderly suffering with chronic illnesses in their last 15-20 years? This is because of the large workload + stress + lack of nutritious food in their working years, that most of their sleep are affected.
Once our sleep is deprived of the quality it deserves, our body of the right food it deserves, our mind of the right perspectives to Life it deserves, our flesh and blood suffer.
Science has said that people who don't sleep well at night suffers from higher risks of stroke and heart disease, the rate of other chronic illness and cancers spike too.
This is how important sleep is to us.
Whenever we don't sleep well, our skin is the first to show the signs in our middle age, the shine and elasticity isn't there the next morning. It's that fast.
In long term to come, our mood will be irritable = we'll be emotionally and mentally unstable. Not meaning that we'll go stark crazy (eventhough yes, in some cases), but our mood will be skewed, some to a point that needs medical attention, driving friends out of our lives, memory is affected, become suspicious etc.
Scary, ain't it?
We'll also grow fat easier and faster if our sleep isn't good. Why?
In the TCM perspective, when our body isn't well rested, our True Yin and Yang energies will be adversely affected = our body functions hinge on them to function well, if they're affected, our metabolic rate will be affected too.
Debris of metabolizing our system, excess food consumed, stress hormones etc cannot be excreted out of our body successfully via sweat, pee and poo. And our weight goes up.
If we take out the food from the equation, the body may turn fat even faster, because it's starved of nutrients, the brain will signal the body to keep whatever it receives for The Great Starvation.
This is why the dieting strategy of limiting food has the highest failure rate. However, I didn't say that we should eat alot. Balance balance balance.
But I digress. :)
How to sleep well?
In order to stay slim, have a good old age years, be competitive enough for workplace and business, sleep must be worshiped. Like how we worship money or love. :P
In the descending order, we must do the following before sleep:
Eat what your body needs, not internet hearsay or your fancy
Relax totally, successful meditation is a great tool
Ditch all thoughts that can stress your mind
Wear the right clothing for the right season
Buy the right bed + pillow
On bed and pillow, a hard bed doesn't mean it's a good one. People who are thin or with skeletal issues should sleep on softer bed of more cushioning. Hard bed is good for people of *ahem* more natural cushioning in their body.
Meaning, those who have a bit more fats. :D
With Singapore's humidity, it's good to vacumm the bed top daily to take away the skin and hair debris from our body. Or it'll be a feast for mites. And our beds should be well aired for any moisture to vapourise in the day.
We give out alot of sweat in our sleep, many don't know that at all. If the moisture we give out at night aren't aired successfully in the day time, be prepared to see mold spots (brown/green/grey/black color) on the top cushion of the mattress after a few years.
Mites and mold are bad for health.
The universe of sleep is only lightly scratched on the surface here, it's a deep learning and in my opinion, must be learned if we want to live a reasonably ok life.
Where to learn about it?
Come for my classes lah. :D