Waking up at 3 a.M.? Your Energy Meridians Might Be Triggering That Alarm

Photo: Getty Images/tampatra
Real talk: My body clock has not been working with me and my Eastern Standard Time way of life lately. I've been sending out middle-of-the-night texts like I'm in college again, just searching for a soul to communicate with and help me pass the time. Not even my trustiest sleep hacks (4-7-8 technique and ASMR vids, looking at you) are, well, trustworthy for getting me through a night. So, I've made a mission find out, once and for all, why I'm waking up at 3 a.m. every night (and no, it's not to pee). The most intriguing possibility? My energy meridians may be super effed up.

First a quick refresher on energy meridians: According to traditional Chinese medicine, your chi (or qi) is your energy current that flows through your body via energetic pathways. Those pathways are referred to as meridians, and TCM recognizes 20 of them. Energy meridians come into play here because sleep issues can indicate an imbalance of your chi. Your body’s internal clock syncs with different hours of the day, and a different organ (12 of the energy meridians are associated with a specific organ) works its hardest during the different shifts. So it's best if you work with your organs so they can perform energetically efficiently when they're meant to.

Tl;dr: Time intervals relate to organs; catering to organs helps energy meridians; balanced energy meridians theoretically mean we all sleep better.

So in an effort to prioritize turning off my ill-timed body alarm, I turned to TCM pros for meridian-optimizing tips. Check them out below.

To not inexplicably wake up at 3 a.m., attend to your liver

“The most common sleep imbalance is related to the liver,” says herbalist and Urban Remedy founder Neka Pasquale. “The liver time is 1 to 3 a.m., so if you have this imbalance, you would wake during this time and have difficulty falling back to sleep.”

“The most common sleep imbalance is related to the liver. The liver time is 1 to 3 a.m., so if you have this imbalance, you would wake during this time and have difficulty falling back to sleep.” —Neka Pasquale, herbalist

Ummm…wonderful. So how does one reestablish that balance? To start, after 1 p.m., caffeine, spicy food, and fried food are not your friends. But, alcohol still on the table—only in moderation. "The liver is responsible for metabolizing alcohol, so drinking in moderation preserves the energy of the liver," she says.

All of this makes total sense for my personal issues: After a monthlong social sabbatical of sorts, I've been overdoing the wine nights and after-work drinks with friends. Cutting back there might be my first step, and a great excuse to give the sober-curious lifestyle a try.

Hey, while I'm not drinking, I could lean into Pasquale's tips for a liver-balancing diet: "Foods that support the liver are all leafy greens—especially the bitter greens like radicchio and dandelion—chlorophyll, pomegranate, vinegar, lime, lemon, fermented foods, milk thistle, and spirulina," she says.

But balancing your liver goes beyond food: It's also vital to address anger, which Pasquale says is associated with the liver. "If you feel irritable or get angry easily, these are telltale signs of a liver imbalance." The good news is there are tons of methods for leveling out your mind for the sake of your liver—and sleep. “Meditation, yoga, journaling, and making sure to express emotions are critical to liver health,” Pasquale says.

Now spare a thought for your gallbladder, and tuck yourself in before midnight

Between 11 p.m. and 1 a.m., the gallbladder is hard at work. The organ is all about digesting, both in a literal sense (by helping to excrete bile and process healthy fats) and also in an emotional one (by processing big decisions and inner resentment). So, optimizing gallbladder health, in terms of TCM standards, suggests turning off your night-owl tendencies. “Sleep by 11 p.m. gives your organs a chance to process your days and emotions,” says Mona Dan, acupuncturist, herbalist, and founder of Vie Healing.

Ditch the midday coffee

This one physically pains me and my caffeine addiction. I credit an afternoon latte alone for getting me through certain workdays, and I use coffee as a crutch to power through late-night projects. But, the simply “powering through” method can have detrimental results.

“Rest when your body is signaling exhaustion. Don’t overstimulate it with caffeine to get through the day,” Dan says. “Keep this up for a couple weeks, and your body will level out.”

Final verdict? The reason your (and my) body clock might be out of whack is because, well, you need to take better care of your body. If your internal alarm is chirping at 3 a.m. on the reg, it's worthwhile to try to listen to what it's saying. Because whether the root issue is energy meridians or something else, happy hours should never give way to restless full nights.

Burning questions: Is it possible that sleep FOMO is the root of your restlessness problem? And once you do get to sleep, should you worry about the sex dreams you have about your…boss

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