Traditional Chinese Medicine and Circadian Rhythm

Traditional Chinese Medicine and the Circadian Rhythm

Traditional Chinese Medicine and the Circadian Rhythm

A recent study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that working the night shift can lead to hormonal and metabolic changes that raise the risk of obesity, diabetes and heart disease. Previously, this type of work has already been linked to gastrointestinal problems, fatigue, poor sleep, and lack of alertness. While 8.6 million Americans perform shift work, this affects many more of us who stay up late into the night on a regular basis for a variety of other reasons.

Getting the right amount of sleep, at the right time, is important. The human body isn’t a machine. Like the rest of nature, we have biological rhythms. When we don’t follow these rhythms, it becomes much easier for us to get sick. These rhythms include sleeping and rising with the sun, eating according to seasons, dressing according to seasons, sleeping longer in winter, etc. Women’s menstrual cycles tend to be affected by the moon. Our hormones are produced at certain times of the day. Modern conveniences are a blessing and a curse, making it much easier to go against the natural rhythms in life but harder to stay aware of what our body needs to stay healthy.

Biological rhythms are not new. For thousands of years, the ancient Taoists in China knew what western scientists are now confirming.

According to Traditional Chinese Medicine, each organ system has a two-hour segment in the 24 hour day where its energy is strongest. Treatments or herbs would be scheduled for specific organ times to increase their effectiveness. In addition, symptoms of disease that appear during a certain time of the day can give clues as to what organ system is imbalanced.

For example, the time of the Liver is between 1 am to 3 am. If someone has insomnia and regularly wakes up during this time, we may want to treat the Liver. The Liver in Chinese Medicine is responsible for the smooth flow of substances throughout the body. In Western Medicine, hepatic flow has been shown to be significantly greater during the late night and early morning than in the afternoon.

Similarly, if someone wakes up between 3 am and 5 am, which is Lung time, we may look to see how the Lung is imbalanced. The Lungs in Chinese Medicine is responsible for respiration and controlling the protective Qi of the body (Wei Qi). The Wei Qi is what prevents external pathogenic factors from getting in. In Western Medicine, asthma is well know to be worst around 4 am when there are changes in the plasma levels of cortisol, epinephrine, cyclic AMP and histamine.

Being proactive about your health by getting back in tune with the biological rhythms will prevent a lot of serious problems later on in your life. Chief among this is to get enough sleep at the right time. Ideally 8 hours a day, sleeping before 10 and waking with the sun.

Further reading:
Night Shift Work Hard on the Heart

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