Heart and Spleen Blood Deficiency

Photo by Veit Hammer on Unsplash

Lots of people have Heart and Spleen Blood deficiency. They can have it long-term, or from time to time. If you have it, you’ll probably be someone who takes supplements, even if you already eat well.

Heart and Spleen Blood deficiency is a syndrome in Chinese medicine. That means it is a pattern of ill-health displayed by millions of people over several thousand years, noticed as such in Chinese medicine but not so specifically in Western medicine. As a syndrome, and because of the history of Chinese medicine, we know what its likely causes are and what to do about it.


A Frequent Cause of Insomnia

This is probably the most common cause of being unable to fall asleep in the first place, that is, when you go to bed.  This form of Blood deficiency means that your Blood isn’t rich enough to support your Shen, your Mind, as it tries to go to sleep.

After all, you wouldn’t expect to sleep well if, where the bed should have been, there was just a hole in the ground!

Maybe that’s what the yawning jaguar in the picture has realised.

wildlife photography of jaguar
Yawning jaguar – Photo by Colin Watts


Overall Energy and Blood deficiency

Heart and Spleen Blood deficiency is important in many spheres of life. It starts with the Spleen being unable to transform food into the first stage of Blood, which is called ‘food-qi’.

Later in the process, after the blood has passed through your lungs and acquired oxygen, it passes through your Heart. Only then does it become what Chinese medicine means by ‘Blood‘, capital  ‘B’.

This could be because

  • worry or anxiety weakens your Spleen Qi
  • bad eating habits weaken your Spleen Qi
  • inadequate food intake means you can’t make Blood
  • the food you eat isn’t proper nutrition (Chinese medicine has a very different attitude to nutrition as compared with Western medicine) or has been cooked wrongly so that your body can’t absorb what it needs
  • it could be that you are too tired when you eat and your digestion hasn’t got the energy to transform the food
  • all sorts of emotions and anxieties disrupt both your Heart and the Spleen actions, including grief and sadness, though usually this doesn’t happen overnight: long-term grief, however can certainly weaken your Heart’s Qi and causes various kinds of Qi Stagnation (another ‘syndrome’). This might be of considerable interest to an acupuncturist using 5 Element acupuncture.
  • you often work or hurry while eating
  • of heavy blood loss from haemorrhage, a wound, heavy menses or during childbirth. Childbirth always involves some loss of Blood, not least because the baby has been made with the mother’s Blood and is now outside the mother, not inside her. This often leads to Blood Stasis and what Western medicine defines as post-natal depression.

At any rate, your Heart doesn’t get what it needs to make Blood. When there isn’t enough Blood, there is nowhere for your Shen – your Spirit or Personality – to reside.

So it easily escapes when you are unsettled, and can’t settle when you want to get to sleep.


Signs of Anaemia

Consequently, there may be signs in Heart and Spleen Blood deficiency of what Western medicine’s Doctors might recognise as anaemia, with

  • faintness,
  • dizziness,
  • uncertain concentration,
  • weak memory,
  • palpitations
  • shortness of breath and
  • insomnia.


There will also be a tendency to worry, and probably the desire for sweet food, or food that becomes sweet after chewing it well.


Our Modern Get-out-of-Jail card

Coffee Beans will worsen Heart and Spleen Blood deficiency
Photo by Mike Kenneally on Unsplash


Nowadays, we get round this by having tea and coffee, which give us an adrenalin burst of caffeine-fuelled energy – but read about the downside of coffee HERE.

Tea is probably better, because it sends energy down and tends to cool you (yes! – even a hot cup of Indian or Chinese tea will cool you down, though it warms you first).

When you have Heart and Spleen Blood deficiency you easily get a bit panicky, a sign of energy rising up in the body, hence the palpitations: tea sends it down (coffee sends it up, often increasing the heartbeat).  If there were enough Blood your Shen energy wouldn’t escape upwards so easily, because your Blood acts like a sheet-anchor.


Your Lungs can Help with Blood deficiency

DEEP breathing helps Heart and Spleen Blood deficiency even more, because the Lungs send energy down too. Deep breathing is also better than tea because it adds more oxygen to the food-qi, temporarily improving it.

When Spleen Qi is weak, so often is Lung Qi, and together they are very important contributors to food-qi on its way to becoming Blood. If either is weak, then Blood is weak: ‘deficient‘.

However, although Blood is deficient, with this syndrome you don’t tend to wake up once you’ve gone to sleep properly. (Although I’ve noticed some exceptions in older people who, having gone to sleep – eventually – and having got their 6 hours sleep, wake earlier than they were used to: but even so after 5am.)

The reason you don’t wake during the night, (unless you also have one of the other syndromes, like food retention, of course) is that you do have enough Yin energy, which keeps you asleep. (Read more about Yin and Yang here.)

Common symptoms of Heart and Spleen Blood deficiency

  • Tired, physically, and also desire to rest and sleep
  • Dizziness
  • Palpitations
  • Appetite reduced
  • Vision blurred: (to improve temporarily, rest or close your eyes and take some deep breaths)
  • Poor concentration,
  • Poor memory
  • Insomnia, being (usually) difficulty in getting to sleep in the first place, or sometimes jerking awake very soon after nodding off
  • Tendency towards anxiety
  • Easily startled, so that your heart races and you get the jitters
  • Tendency to panic
  • Desire for sweet foods
  • Pale face
  • Tongue Pale
  • Pulse: choppy (rough) or thin (thready)


A Morning Doze if you can get it!

Note: with Heart and Spleen Blood deficiency, if you can remain in bed after 7am you may be able to sleep well for a while again.

In fact this morning sleep may partially recover the missing energy and Blood which you failed to get between 10pm and 3am.


If you can sleep after 7am for several hours, you feel almost normal again. It’s often a good sleep. (One reason, in Chinese medicine, is that this is the time of day when the Stomach energy comes online and partially makes up for the Spleen deficiency.)


Anxious Moods and Heart and Spleen Blood deficiency

The Blood deficiency here makes you somewhat over-anxious, even panicky. You often need to be calmed down or reassured.

Because women make more Blood than men, to service their periods, this syndrome occurs more often with them than men, although many men also suffer it.

For women, it is often worse when menstruating when they are losing blood and haven’t yet re-manufactured it.

Heart and Spleen Blood deficiency is a syndrome where a small snack before bed, warming and comforting, may help you to get to sleep.

However, too large a snack at bedtime can be counter-productive as it easily leads, in someone for whom Spleen Qi is deficient, to Food Retention.


Treatment for Heart and Spleen Blood deficiency

Whatever treatment is chosen (in Chinese medicine these might typically be acupunctureherbs or massage and advice about maintaining mental equilibrium, perhaps through learning how to meditate) the aim would be to:


NUTRITION for Blood deficiency

Of course, longer-term, the patient with Heart and Spleen Blood deficiency would have to be ‘re-educated’ about nutrition, diet and eating habits. This includes learning not to over-eat, which can be a tendency because since you don’t absorb food quickly, you still feel hungry, so you eat more.

There’s an old piece of advice, which is to stop eating before you have no more room: always finish feeling that you could have eaten a little more. Leaving yourself a little hungry means that you probably have just a small excess of stomach acid remaining: this will digest your food more quickly and you will be less inclined to feel sleepy.

Most unfortunately, this may mean foregoing pudding.

In terms of Chinese medicine, this means that you take care not to exhaust your supply of Stomach Yang or Qi, which is the energy your body uses to digest food. If you over-eat, or eat the wrong foods for your metabolism, you feel bloated and sluggish, signs of an excess of Yin over Yang: ie of too much food for your Stomach Yang to deal with.

This syndrome nearly always benefits from a good nutritional supplement, unless of course you have the diet that is perfect for you.

If this is your syndrome you are also usually interested in nutrition, and would benefit from reading up on the metabolic diet, for instance, quite apart from learning about Chinese food energetics.

 Metabolic typing diet may help Heart and Spleen Blood deficiency


You might need supportive counselling if there are many personal or financial problems in your life. You might need a different job, (or just a job, of course, if financial matters are dire) and be encouraged to save rather than to spend, to accumulate rather than dissipate.

The personality that goes with this syndrome is prone to worry, often for good reasons. But you also tend to exceed your body’s capability.



Not too much, to begin with. However, as you get stronger, both from food, counselling and of course treatment, you should take exercise. Initially it should be to develop core strength, so Yoga, Tai Chi and Pilates are good.

Tai Qi - Man doing Tai Chi, a great way to regulate Heart and Spleen Blood deficiency.nd Spleen
Photo by Mark Hang Fung So on Unsplash

Later, you might consider interval training – but work up to it gradually! Even here, you have to learn the limits of your body.


REST and Blood deficiency

Making time for rest, regularly, is important too. After meals, don’t rush back to work or to take vigorous exercise. Instead, take a gentle walk.

Often Liver Blood has to be treated as well. This is because Liver Blood deficiency can also lead to this syndrome.



All that said, this is not the only reason you can’t sleep! Click difficulty falling asleep.



Just to repeat – Chinese medicine has been treating this for thousands of years. See an acupuncturist and/or a practitioner of Chinese herbalism: preferably someone who does both.

Click to return from Heart and Spleen Blood deficiency to Insomnia.

Click to return to Syndromes.

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