The Yin and Yang of Sleep
Just like night and day, up and down, still and moving, wakefulness and sleeping are relative to one another, dependent on one another, and tied to each other. The duality of night and day reflects the duality of Yin and Yang.
Yin and Yang are two opposite “forces” that merge and flow with each other beneath the surface of the obvious world. Yin and Yang ultimately “birth” everything in the world, including human beings. Chinese medicine seeks to bring balance and harmony between Yin and Yang, in order to bring balance and harmony to our mind-body-spirit.
Yin and Yang
Yin is associated with night, stillness, inner, quiet, and sleep. Yang is associated with day, movement, exterior, noisy, and awake. When Yin and Yang are harmonious, so is our sleep and our wakefulness. When Yin and Yang are out of harmony, or out of balance, so is our sleep and wakefulness.
Depending on the person and the circumstances, one might experience difficulty getting to sleep and staying asleep (too much Yang compared to Yin), or difficulty waking up and staying awake (too much Yin compared to Yang).
How to balance Yin and Yang
Balance is an ongoing process that changes with circumstances. There is no one perfect moment of balance that we aim to attain and nail down. The practice is to be aware of ourselves and make little modifications along the way to support the harmony and flow of Yin and Yang.
Let’s say you have trouble falling asleep.
You might become aware that you habitually emphasize Yang while ignoring Yin. What’s that look like?
- Lots of activity in mind and body with a preference for activity over stillness.
- When your body is calling for a nap, you drink more coffee.
- When you could be chilling out at a stop light, you are checking your phone for email.
- While eating meals, you are also watching TV, keeping an eye on incoming emails and texts, and updating your “to do” list.
- Ready for bed, in you go with your phone or tablet just to check on things one last time before trying to get to sleep.
All of the above are Yang-type activities. These things keep your mind active and your attention externally focused. Then, when it is time to go inward and sink into Yin, things don’t go so well because the contrast is too big.
By intentionally bringing ourselves inward, to stillness, to one thing at a time, we emphasize and grow Yin. As we get better practiced with Yin, we will bring balance to the outsized Yang. With time, as Yin and Yang re-balance, changes in your ability to sleep will come about.