They're tired all the time. They've tried sleeping more. They've tried caffeine. What they have not tried, until visiting Dr. Apichai, is following the circadian rhythm of traditional Chinese medicine.
By aligning their daily schedule with "yang" times and "yin" times, many of his patients are able to renew their energy during the day without artificial stimulants. Dr. Apichai says anyone can benefit from two simple steps: going to sleep before 11 p.m. and exercising between 5 and 7 a.m.
"In the U.S., there are so many people who suffer from chronic fatigue," says Dr. Apichai, a clinical faculty member at Bastyr Center for Natural Health. "Is it because they don't drink enough coffee? No. Is it because they have malnutrition? No. It’s because they don't have enough yang qi."
Unlike Western medicine's focus on the absence of disease, the heart of traditional Chinese medicine is maintaining balance between primal life forces, particularly yang qi (pronounced "chi") and yin qi. Practitioners divide the day into yin times (11 a.m. to 11 p.m.) and yang times (11 p.m. to 11 a.m.). Each contains six two-hour periods, each one best for certain activities.
It's not as complicated as it sounds. By falling asleep before yang time begins at 11 p.m., sleepers are able to get good rest and wake up refreshed, Dr. Apichai says.
"Patients tell me they can't fall asleep so early," he says. "I tell them to lay in bed and meditate, or read a book."
Before artificial lighting disconnected our daily schedules from the sun's schedule, people followed this rhythm more closely, he adds.
The next key, Dr. Apichai says, is to exercise early in the morning, between 5 and 7 a.m. Parks in China are busiest during this time, with people practicing tai chi, qigong and other physical activities. This provides energy and alertness for the rest of the day, says Dr. Apichai, who earned his Doctor of Medicine at Jinan University Medical School in China.
The other good news: It gets easier to get up early the more you do it. "I've seen many patients with chronic fatigue, and this schedule helps so much," Dr. Apichai says. "Once they have learned how to follow it, they don't need to come back for treatment."
There has been little scientific research to validate the traditional Chinese time cycle in Western terms, Dr. Apichai says (even the term "exercise" fits Western health concepts more than Eastern ones.) However, the phenomena of circadian rhythms — natural 24-hour cycles — has been widely observed in biochemical, physiological or behavioral processes in the natural world. (Some flowers open and close based on this schedule, for example.)
For people who work night shifts or can't follow the circadian cycle for other reasons, Dr. Apichai says it's still best to try to get physical activity early in the day.
Furthermore, eating the right food helps to maintain a yin-yang balance and allows organs to produce qi for daytime energy and nighttime sleep quality.
And for those who want to delve further into following a traditional Chinese medicine schedule, he recommends seeing an acupuncturist at Bastyr Center for Natural Health. To make an appointment, call (206) 834-4100.