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Is sleep really for the weak?

How often do you find yourself feeling drained by 3 pm?

While coffee may seem like an easy perk-me-up when the midday slump hits, a good night’s sleep is a much better way to staying energised for the day ahead. In addition to giving the body much-needed rest, sleep is also important for various aspects of brain function like concentration and productivity, improving immune function and boosting the mood amongst other benefits.

Still think sleep is for the weak? In fact, the opposite is true—a lack of sleep can result in the deterioration of the health, making us weak and more vulnerable to illnesses and even increases the risks of diseases like heart attack, high blood pressure, and stroke.

TCM perspective on sleep and insomnia

Many of us think that a good night’s sleep is just a matter of sleeping more. But it’s not that simple. Sleep happens in a series of cycles called the circadian rhythm, which varies for each individual.

According to TCM, the circadian rhythm is balanced by ‘yin’ and ‘yang’. While we are active during the day, ‘yang’ is dominant and abundant, whereas ‘yin’ is dominant while we’re asleep. An imbalance of ‘yin’ and ‘yang’ is what causes insomnia.

Sleep is also related to the heart. The heart is the core of the ‘shen’ (, mind/spirit), which is responsible for mental functions such as consciousness, alertness, and thinking. “Shen” is most active during the day, keeping us awake and alert. At night, ‘shen’ becomes less active, allowing the mind to rest and recharge. However, for those who tend to have an endless stream of thoughts on their minds, sleeping problems may result from hyperactive thoughts and emotions, or an overactive ‘shen’.

Can’t sleep? Look into changing your lifestyle

The first step to improving your sleep is adopting a healthier lifestyle. Here are some tips you can follow for a better night’s rest:

1. Have a regular sleeping schedule

If you find yourself going to sleep late and waking up at irregular timings, you should establish a regular sleeping schedule. Going to sleep and waking up at the same time every day promotes a balanced and regular circadian rhythm, fortifying the body’s sleep-wake cycle which leads to better sleep.

2. Limit the use of electronic devices before sleep

The blue light emitted from your phone or computer screens mimics blue light from the sun, which interferes with the production of the sleep regulating hormone, melatonin, keeping you awake late into the night. The usage of your phones or laptops at night increases your cognitive stimulation, keeping your mind alert and affecting your ability to fall asleep.

3. Regular exercise

To gym or not to gym? A sedentary lifestyle and the lack of exercise may be the cause of your insomnia. Frequent exercise has been shown to improve sleep cycles, especially those suffering from chronic insomnia[1]. So, it’s time to get off the couch and into those running shoes!

4. Avoid coffee at night

Coffee may be your best friend but taking too much of these caffeine-infused drinks can affect your sleep quality. Instead, try drinking a glass of warm water each night to hydrate yourself before bed.

5. Avoid sleeping with a full stomach

Are you guilty of post-dinner snacking? Other than weight gain, eating too much before sleep can cause also stomach bloating or acid reflux, all of which interfere with your sleep quality. In TCM, this is described as 胃不和则卧不安(wei bu he ze wo bu an), which translates into “if the stomach is not in harmony, sleep will not be restful.

Improve your sleep with these easy recipes!

Lotus Soup with Licorice, Wheat and Red Dates


  • Lotus Root – 250g
  • Blighted Wheat – 30g
  • Licorice Root – 10g
  • Red Dates (pits removed) – 5 pieces
  • Water – 1.5l
  • Salt (to taste)


  1. Rinse the blighted wheat and soak it in water for 1 hour.
  2. Peel and cut the lotus root into large chunks.
  3. Place the soaked blighted wheat, licorice root, red dates and lotus root in a large pot, add 1.5l of water and bring to a boil.
  4. Reduce to small fire and simmer for 1 to 1.5 hours.
  5. Add salt to taste.

Lotus Soup with Licorice, Wheat and Red Dates can strengthen ‘‘qi’’ and blood, nourish the heart and calm the mind. It is suitable for people who have insomnia and anxiety.

Lily Bulb Lotus Porridge


  • Dried Lily Bulbs 15g
  • Lotus Seeds 15g
  • Dried Longans 6g
  • Rice 50g
  • Water 500ml


  1. Soak the dried lily bulbs and lotus seeds in water for 1 hour.
  2. Place the soaked lily bulbs, soaked lotus seeds, longans and rice in a pot. Add 500ml of water and bring to a boil.
  3. After boiling, reduce to small fire and simmer for 30 minutes or until you achieve your desired consistency, stirring regularly.
  4. Add salt to taste and serve.

Lily Bulb Lotus Porridge can clear internal heat, nourish ‘yin’, and calm the mind.


Lying awake in bed? Massage these acupressure points

Rather than counting sheep or doing breathing exercises, stimulating these acupressure points may be more effective in helping you to fall asleep:

  1. Nei Guan (PC6) is located about 2 thumb widths above the middle of the wrist crease, between the 2 tendons (palmaris longus and flexor carpi radialis tendons). This acupressure point belongs to the pericardium meridian or the outer covering of the heart, which helps to protect the heart from invasion by external pathogens. Massaging this point can help to calm the heart, promoting better sleep.
  1. Baihui (DU20) is located on the intersection between the midline of the head and the line joining the apex of the ears. Baihui is found on the Du meridian, which is able to regulate certain brain functions. Massaging this acupressure point can clear and calm the mind, promote the circulation of ‘qi’ and blood to the brain, and regulate the balance of ‘yin’ and ‘yang’ to help sleep.
  1. Shenmen (HT7) is located on the inner wrist crease. This point is found on the heart meridian and can invigorate heart ‘qi’, clear heart fire and calm the mind to promote quality sleep.


Contributed by Associate Senior Physician Peng Ya Ling of Eu Yan Sang TCM Clinic at Punggol Waterway Point and Tampines