Early Bed Time in TCM

FEB 12, 2021

Early Bed
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EARLY BEDTIME IN TRADITIONAL CHINESE MEDICINE 🛌 TCM profoundly underlines the importance of biological rhythm, including circadian (daily) rhythm, lunar rhythm, and seasonal rhythm. Many theories have been developed to better understand these phenomena, including the TCM body clock, a time chart which dedicates two-hour slots to the various organs and their functions in our body. Being asleep during the hours of 11-3 is considered crucial to one’s health and well-being.⠀

As a night owl, I always regarded the early bedtime with skepticism—surely length mattered more than whether I go to bed at 10 or 2? I was further baffled when the Dalai Lama spoke at my college and pointed to an early bedtime as the key to happiness (he sleeps from 7pm to 3am). I considered the TCM body clock abstract and arbitrary.⠀

Yet, after spending the day researching this topic, I’ve found that scientific studies are showing there is indeed evidence to back these theories from Ancient China.⠀

Take the heart—which is thought to rule from 11am to 1pm: research indicates that blood pressure and heart rate reach their peaks during this period as does the incidence of myocardial infarction, arrhythmia, angina pectoris and sudden cardiac death (Zhang). The scientists further explain that “cardiac burden rises to the highest point, and risks of exhausted heart [is] the highest with the highest incidence of morbidity” during this time period.⠀

Recent studies also show that circadian rhythm disruption may induce or accelerate the onset of multiple diseases, including Alzheimer's, obesity, and diabetes, and is a risk factor for breast cancer.⠀

A new study (WashU) indicates that people showing evidence of preclinical Alzheimer’s—more amyloid buildup in their brains—had more fragmentation in their circadian activity patterns: more inactivity during the day and more activity at night. Alzheimer’s damage can take root in the brain 15-20 years before symptoms appear, so these findings can help doctors identify at-risk patients, and hopefully convince them to change their habits.⠀

Will these ancient theories or new studies change your thoughts on bedtime?⠀

Art: Jiang Guofang