Sleep: Waking up between 1-3am? It could be your Liver!

We have all done it, you roll over, look at the clock and there it is… 3:00 am. Hopefully, you can roll back over and fall back asleep, but what if you can’t? Luckily, acupuncture and Eastern Medicine can help!

In the clinic, this 1-3 am wake up is one of the most common sleep disturbances that I see. Why this particular time? Well, according to our Eastern Medicine Body Clock (our breakdown of the circadian rhythm, see the image below), this time coincides with the Liver organ system. Our Body Clock is set up in 2-hour blocks representing the organ system that the Qi is strongly flowing through during that time. When there is something off with that organ system, it can disrupt the normal flow of Qi, causing disturbances that then cause the symptoms that can show up during that particular time. For example, if you wake from 3-5 am, which is the Lung time, you may be going through a period of grief or have a weakness in your respiratory system (asthma, COPD). Interesting right?

So what’s going on with the Liver causing you to wake up between 1-3 am? Well, the Liver system is one of the organ systems that is most affected by stress. Feeling stressed, angry, or frustrated are all signs that the Qi in the Liver system is stagnant or in excess. This stagnation can lead to a build-up of heat that disturbs the spirit (Shen) creating more irritability and emotional disturbances that can make it difficult to fall asleep or wake us up in the middle of the night. The more heat in the system, the more wild or disturbing our dreams can be. Other signs that the Liver Qi is being disrupted is a tightness feeling in the chest or sides of the rib cage.

To treat this stagnation, we can use acupuncture, Chinese herbal medicine (like Emotional Balance), exercise, and rubbing the sides of the rib cage to release this constraint. Taking care of this stagnation outside of sleeping hours and making changes to how we manage stress can drastically improve our sleeping patterns.

During the night the spirit (Shen) is supposed to be rooted in our Blood so that our mind and emotions can rest and be restored. If we have a deficiency in Liver Blood we can have trouble staying asleep, because there is not enough blood to anchor the spirit, allowing our mind race when it should be resting. Other signs that Blood may be deficient are pale/brittle nails, dizziness, blurred vision, pale-complexion, and scanty menses for females. This sleep pattern is usually associated also with Heart and Spleen deficiency, and you may be experiencing fatigue, palpitations, anxiety, and poor digestion.

To correct a Blood deficiency we need to nourish the body. We can achieve this with acupuncture, Chinese herbs (like Mental Tranquility or Suan Zao Ren Tang), a nourishing diet (Golgi berries, dates, red meat, soups/stews), and restorative meditation practice.

There are many reasons why your sleep may be off, and these are just two. If you experience severe insomnia or occasional sleep disturbances, we take a holistic and individual approach to treating you exactly where you are. You don’t need to suffer any longer. Send me an email or book online today to get started on getting you the best night’s sleep.

Here are some tips for you to try at home to get you started right away:

Trouble falling asleep:

  • Foot soak before bed to ground your Qi (and pull it from your busy head!)

  • Quiet reading, meditation, or stretching during the hour up to bedtime (with no tv/electronics)

You are awake during the night, now what? :

  • Make sure the temperature is comfortable in the room, use the restroom if needed

  • Readjust pillows to make yourself comfortable

  • 4-2-6 Breathing Exercise (Breathe in for 4 secs, Hold for 2 secs, Breath out for 6 secs)

If you can’t fall back asleep after 30 mins:

  • Listen to meditation recording for sleep (I like the Calm app, but many are available on YouTube)

  • Quiet reading, and once you yawn or start feeling tired, lay your book down and try to get back sleep

  • Keep a pen and paper by the bed and write down whatever you can’t get off your mind

  • Light stretching in bed, the 4-2-6 Breathing Exercise (Breathe in for 4 secs, Hold for 2 secs, Breath out for 6 secs)


Sign up with your email to stay informed on our clinic updates and receive our newsletter.

Please enter a valid email address.

We respect your privacy and you can unsubscribe at anytime!

Follow us and stay up to date on special events!