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Mind Your Sleep in the Digital Age

By George Yang, M.D. and Jingduan Yang, M.D.

Today, we have a digital way of life. We use digital technologies to work, manage projects, communicate, and look up anything and everything.

American adults spent an average of three hours, 35 minutes per day on mobile devices in 2018, an annual increase of more than 11 minutes. This year, mobile is expected to surpass TV as the medium attracting the most minutes in the United States.

Advanced digital technologies have brought us convenience in daily living, such as monitoring our steps, sleep time, and calorie intake, and have allowed us to work productively with people on the other side of the planet.

But what’s the price of this convenience—not in the monetary sense, but in terms of our most valuable asset: our health?

Technology and Sleep Deprivation

When it comes to our health, probably the most significant effect of digital technology is on sleep. According to a study published in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine, approximately 90 percent of Americans, especially young adults, use technology before bed—talking, texting, browsing, emailing, working, playing, posting, or reading just before trying to sleep.

Furthermore, 22 percent go to sleep with cellphone ringers on in their bedroom and 10 percent report being woken up by their phones at least a few nights per week.

UCLA Chancellor Gene Block, a biobehavioral scientist, stated that “50 years ago, the average adult got 8 1/2 hours of sleep; now, we average less than seven hours a night.”

Bright light reduces levels of the hormone melatonin, which regulates sleep, and decreases the hormone leptin, which makes you feel full. At the same time, bright light increases ghrelin, which makes you feel hungry. So more time in front of computers and phones can make people gain weight, not just because they are more sedentary, but because of the effect that screens have on sleep cycles.

Sleep at the Right Time

Ancient Chinese medicine treats sleep as the best medicine to heal, restore, and rejuvenate one’s body and mind. How well one sleeps at night determines how well one functions during the day, and probably how long we live.

From a Chinese medicine perspective, from 9 p.m. to 5 a.m.—the eight hours that people are supposed to sleep—one’s vital energy and blood concentrates in the important organs in order to replenish them after they have worked hard during the day.

For example, from 9 p.m. to 11 p.m., the three chambers of the chest, abdomen, and pelvis—known as the “triple burner” in Chinese medicine for their important metabolic functions—receive most of the vital energy and blood to support all the organs in the three chambers. The triple burner is responsible for the respiration of air, the transformation of food to energy, the distribution of the energy into all important internal organs, and the elimination of the waste from the body.

On days when a person has control of their bedtime, a 9 p.m. bedtime is equal to the best spa treatment available. People who stay up late for work using digital technologies should go to bed at this time whenever possible.

From 11 p.m. to 3 a.m., the vital energy and blood concentrates in the gallbladder and the liver. These organs are the energetic centers that achieve their critical functions through a very complicated and long network. They help store the blood at night, detoxify the body, regulate digestion, keep the vital energy and blood circulating in the right direction, and modulate one’s vision, sleep, mood, and executive functions. They nurture the body’s connective tissues, sinews, and ligaments, and regulate the functions of the genitals as well.

If you don’t want trouble with these important mental and physical functions, you should make sure you sleep during these four hours. If a person is diagnosed with fibromyalgia, major depression, irritable bowel or bladder syndromes, insomnia, chronic fatigue, ADHD/ADD, GERD (esophagogastric acid reflux), stroke, or epilepsy, you should really protect these four hours of sleep on a daily basis because they are all related to the energetic dysfunction of the liver and gallbladder.

From 3 a.m. to 5 a.m., the vital energy and blood circulate to the lungs for two hours in great concentration to nurture these critical organs, which work constantly to sustain one’s life.

Few people appreciate their lungs’ steady work until they have difficulties. Chinese medicine holds that the lungs and their energetic network do more than help take in oxygen and expel carbon dioxide; they also nurture the skin, regulate mood and motor sensory functions, defend the body from infections, modulate water metabolism through modifying urination and bowel movements, and support the cardiovascular system.

The lungs also are energetically partnered with the large intestine, which is where the vital energy and blood concentrates from 5 a.m. to 7 a.m. This is the best time period to have a bowel movement. Having bowel movements when one first wakes up—and then keeping the bowels clean and empty as much as possible—helps the lungs function better during the day.

If you have to stay up late, or work a night shift, and miss the right bedtime, you should find ways to take extra care of these important organs.

This article was first published on EET and contributed by Dr. Jingduan Yang.

Dr. Jingduan Yang is a neurologist, psychiatrist, and expert in acupuncture, Chinese medicine, and integrative medicine. He founded the Yang Institute of Integrative Medicine, the Tao Clinic of Acupuncture, and the American Institute of Clinical Acupuncture. Dr. Yang co-authored two books: “Facing East: Ancient Health and Beauty Secrets for the Modern Age” and “Clinical Acupuncture and Ancient Chinese Medicine.”

Dr. Chi-Ao (George) Yang graduated from Peking University Health Science Center in Beijing. After graduation, he passed all required board exams in the United States. He’s now working alongside Dr. Yang as a clinical research assistant. He would like to pursue residency training in family medicine in the near future.


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