Wake Up Often? Is this a Nightly Problem?

Photo by Ben Blennerhassett on Unsplash

Key Learning Points

  • Waking Up may be too little yin or too much yang
  • Too little yin could be Blood deficiency
  • Too much yang could be excitement or apprehension
  • You can have a combination of factors

Wake up often from sleep and fed-up? Or perhaps you keep waking up at 3am and can’t get back to sleep?

Whether or not you get off to sleep in the first place, you emerge from sleep far earlier than you want to – making you tired all day?

Well, there’s hope.

Now, just to be clear, we are not talking about situations

  • where you have a bad cold, when your blocked nose wakes you; nor
  • where the children come to join you and demand to be fed in the middle of the night; nor 
  • where the neighbour’s alarm waking him for his shift also wakes you, and such like.


Neither are we talking about


All these, and others, are possible reasons that you wake up often, and if they are diagnosable in terms of Chinese medicine ‘syndromes‘, they can be helped. But they aren’t the subject of this page.

Here we are just talking about where you wake up frequently. Or where you wake up early.

The Main Causes in Chinese Medicine of Why You WAKE UP

TCM theory reasons you wake up.
Insomnia syndromes


Look carefully at the image above and you’ll notice two of the syndromes are not ‘deficiency‘ syndromes. 

The two ‘excess‘-type syndromes are:


The other – ‘deficiency’-type – syndromes are:


Is that all?

No! Other syndromes, such as Food Retention, might wake you but those listed above are the main ones. (Food retention is an odd one here because it’s actually a form of Yin excess, as the food sits inside you turning into compost, hot and smelly and heavy to shift! With this, the yin excess turns into Heat which then wakes you. Click for more examples of yin excess.)


Emotions and Worries

That you wake up often may be due to emotional concerns or worries  which crowd in after you wake up, disturbing your ability to fall asleep again. Here you may have Shen-Mind disturbance too.


Five ‘Element’ or ‘Phase’ Theory

Often these relate to one or more of the ‘Five Elements’. This Five Element or Five Phase theory has been, since antiquity, a way to understand and deal with life in a more harmonious way. 5 Element acupuncture is based on these ancient ideas, as is Reiki, some forms of Shiatsu and Applied Kinesiology.

What’s the Difference between Excess and Deficiency? Does it Matter?

Here’s the difference. Imagine you are driving along happily in your car when you suddenly discover that your car’s engine is overheating: the water-temperature gauge tells you that it’s boiling.

Sun for Wake Up
Photo by Andrey Grinkevich on Unsplash


If you are in the middle of the Sahara desert at midday in the sun, then probably the problem is due to the whole engine overheating and, even though the cooling system is functioning at full pitch, it’s just not enough to keep the engine cool.

This ‘excess’-heat situation we’ll call ‘excess Yang‘.



Now, instead, imagine you are driving in snow in winter.

It’s really cold outside and you have the air-heater full on to keep you warm.  Although it uses energy from the engine to warm you, the heater also incidentally cools the engine.

Over-heating car from low levels of coolant: analogy to wake up.
Car in winter: Photo by Conor Hennessy


However, despite the cold outside, the engine is over-heating. There are several possible reasons, including that the water pump isn’t working, and that you have run out of coolant.

Without that coolant circulating to cool the engine, the engine overheats.

This deficiency of coolant situation we’ll call ‘deficient Yin’. For more on this, click on Yin deficiency.

Of course you could have both, if you forgot to fill up the engine’s radiator with coolant before driving across the Sahara on that nice, hot day. Then you could have both excess Yang and deficient Yin: this would not be a healthy condition for the engine.

Why Do Yin and Yang matter here?

The difference matters because if you accept that an acupuncturist, or someone using the principles of Chinese medicine and its theory, can strengthen or disperse your body’s Yin or Yang energies, then for the ‘excess’ situations you would definitely want to disperse excess Yang: if you read the symptoms you’ll realise these people are slightly ‘over the top’ and with only a little push might end up with serious pathology. (Serious? It might kill them.)

It can be a bit like having a ‘mad’ child in the playground, terrorising all the others: you need to calm him (her?) down.

But with the ‘deficient’ conditions you would want to strengthen Yin in the same way that you would want to feed an under-nourished child.

However, if you strengthened Yin when the problem was excess Yang, you would stoke up the heat: you would be strengthening the ‘mad’ child, making him even more dangerous.

If you dispersed Yang when the body was already deficient in Yin you might weaken the patient, making him deficient in both Yang and Yin. This would be like taking away from the undernourished child what little energy was remaining.

So making the right diagnosis before treating is vital.

Someone waking up often may not understand why he must answer so many questions but it’s to design the best and fastest treatment so the acupuncturist doesn’t do the wrong thing!

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It is possible to have more than one syndrome at a time?

It most certainly is! In fact it is quite common to wake up often from more than one syndrome at a time.

Example 1: Heart Yin deficiency with Heart Fire

For example, you could have ‘Heart Yin deficiency’ – night sweats, palpitations, can’t settle to anything – with ‘Heart Fire’ – tongue ulcers, tongue red, thirst and over-excitability(Please click the links for a more thorough explanation of these syndromes.)

This ‘Heart-syndrome’ kind of person waking up often might be anxious and easily startled at any time, but then also suddenly wake up in the night, sweating, heart-racing, and probably with terrifying dreams.

Example 2:

Heart and Spleen Blood Deficiency with Heart and Kidney not harmonised

Or you could have ‘Heart and Spleen Blood deficiency’ with ‘Heart and Kidney not harmonised’. Here, though you wake up less suddenly,  there would still probably be some sweating. You wouldn’t have such intense palpitations as with the Heart-syndrome patient above, and you might feel a little weak or easily cold if you got out of bed, unlike the Heart patient who is almost always hot. (Please click the links for a more thorough explanation of these syndromes.)

If you wake up often from ‘Heart and Spleen Blood deficiency’ with ‘Heart and Kidney not harmonised’, you would probably benefit from a small snack at bedtime. (Such a snack for the Heart Fire patient would probably make his condition worse.) For these syndromes, you would nearly always benefit from remaining in bed after 7am and getting a good sleep for an extra hour or more.

A small late night snack may provide some fuel so you don't wake up.


Summarising ‘Wake Up Often’

In the former patient, the Heart-syndrome type, your acupuncturist would probably treat first the Heart Fire and once that was regulated, go on to treat the Heart Yin deficiency.

In other words the aim would probably be first to clear Heat from Heart Fire, then to nourish Heart Yin.

In the second example, (Heart and Spleen Blood deficiency etc.) your acupuncturist would have to decide which to treat first, which would depend on the strength of your symptoms: however, he or she would certainly  want to strengthen your Yin and Blood.

Other Conditions preventing Sleep

Click the following links to find out more:

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