Getting sleep when you're worried and stressed

I talk about these issues and ideas in the most recent episode of TCMTalk! Check out the video on our Youtube Channel, or scroll to the end of the article. Subscribe to the TCMTalk channel to get our seasonal health and wellness videos as soon as they're released!

I've collected some ways of understanding insomnia and solutions that most folks can do themselves. Chronic insomnia that doesn't resolve with these kinds of approaches or is severely affecting your ability to function needs attention. Please find a practitioner of Traditional Chinese Medicine or holistic medicine in your area for treatment and further support - email me if you'd like help finding someone in your area. Visit TCMTalk on Pinterest for more resources and links


  1. Keep your bedroom clean and uncluttered. Change sheets regularly and purify air with filters and/or plants
  2. Use your bed for sleeping, relaxation and sex - not work
  3. Go screen free or at least be sure to use a light modulator
  4. Make your bedroom as dark as possible
  5. Develop sleep rituals - having a bath, journalling, meditating, (here's some ideas)
  6. Keep your bedroom cool

Top tips for “Wood Element” insomnia:

The 5 Elements through the day  (I could not find the original artist for this image)

The 5 Elements through the day (I could not find the original artist for this image)

The Wood Element is the dominant element in the Spring time. It is associated with the Chinese medicine organ systems of the Liver and Gallbladder, and related to self-expression, the free flow of energy, and the expression of anger and self-assertion (learn more in Denise's TCMTalk on the Wood Element) Dysfunction and imbalance in the Wood element shows itself when your sleep is disrupted by anger, stress, frustration and overwork. You might find yourself waking in the middle of the night (during the 'Wood Element' time of day) and tossing and turning, with your mind going over the day’s events or the causes of your frustrations

The prescription for this kind of sleep trouble is to relieve and release the congested energy and emotions which are backing up and disrupting your sleep with mind-body-spirit practices that benefit the Wood Element and the Liver-Gallbladder system.

Yoga + qi gong for the liver/gallbladder/wood element - to help in discharging energy from those systems with stretching  and gentle movement - we’ve shared a few videos on our pinterest board, and I especially love the Qi Gong videos of Mimi Kuo-Deemer, like this one for the Wood Element

MOVE Wood Healing Anointing oil contains essential oils for relieving and releasing stuck energy and emotions.

MOVE Wood Healing Anointing oil contains essential oils for relieving and releasing stuck energy and emotions.

Massage especially for foot and leg massage, or the sides of the head - use an aromatherapy blend like Move Wood, Swimming Dragon oil, or make your own with the essential oils that harmonize and move stagnation in the Wood Element - Denise has a great infographic sharing some of our faves and how to use them.

Herbs + foods: herbs that help move and benefit the Liver/Gallbladder and can relax you into a good night’s sleep include mint, lemon balm, cardamom, chamomile, and bupleurum or chai hu, (especially combined with peony root or bai shao) cumin, fennel and ginger. These aren't designed to knock you out, but rather help balance out your energy through the day - try drinking a spicy or minty blend in the afternoon.

I like to add mimosa blossom or he huan hua, to my Swimming Dragon tea blend to relax and release the liver and promote sleep. Water with apple cider vinegar or lemon juice is a good morning beverage for folks suffering with liver congestion and stagnation. Try mixing equal parts (about a tablespoon each) of honey and apple cider vinegar into a big glass of water for a balancing sweet and sour health beverage to begin the day. Eating lots of veggies, whole foods and getting enough fiber also helps keep everything, including your stagnant energy, moving!

Worry Journal - this is a way to help manage stress and worry: you write down everything that’s weighing on your mind so you can release it before sleep. It goes well with bedtime rituals and keeping screens and work out of the bedroom. You leave the day in the journal and enter into a different space/time for sleep and restoration.

Meditation practice - meditation is something we recommend for every condition and stage of life! For when you’re feeling very pent up, try walking meditation. You can even do it if you awake in the night and can’t get back to sleep - get out of bed and do walking meditation for 10 or 15 minutes and then try to sleep again.

The Wood Element and the Liver-Gall Bladder system are working hard in these times to cope with the onslaught of external stressors, environmental toxins and daily frustrations that we are all living with, especially those of us in oppressed and marginalized communities. Denise and I hope these ideas and strategies and everything we share through TCMTalk can support your wonderful body in harmony with the energies of the Universe and help you as  you do your work in the world.

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