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March 23, 2010

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When spring makes you sleep

THOUGH some people feel frisky and energized, "spring feverish" in spring, many others feel tired and sleepy as the rest of the world is waking up.

Traditional Chinese medicine has a term for this, chun kun, or spring sleepiness.

Getting more sleep won't help, but boosting your yang (hot) energy and getting your qi moving will help. Caffeine, splashing cold water in your face, listening to fast music or breathing something sharp and invigorating can help.

In time the tiredness will pass as the body adjusts to the change in seasons.

Here's an explanation for the fatigue:

To resist winter cold, surface blood vessels contract and pores usually shrink to reduce heat emission and keep body temperature stable. This means more blood flows to the liver and more oxygen and blood flow to the brain.

When warmer spring weather arrives, blood vessels expand, blood pressure drops, more blood flows to the skin and less oxygen and blood goes to the brain. More active metabolism in spring requires more oxygen, so less is sent to the brain. The brain gets sleepy.

Another explanation for fatigue is a seasonal hormone imbalance.

Hormones and circadian rhythms also account for those feelings of excitement and energy in spring: there's more daylight and more serotonin (the "happiness hormone") is released; melatonin production falls, hence people are more wide awake.

Take your pick.

Chinese people appear to be more susceptible to chun kun, and it is felt most keenly in mid-March and April.

Though it is not an illness, sleepiness and fatigue pose problems for those who really need to stay awake, like students, office workers and drivers.

Contrary to popular belief, sleeping more won't relieve the problem. Eight hours of sleep is usually enough for adults; sleeping longer may reduce activity in the cerebral cortex, making people sleepier.

To prevent or relieve sleepiness in spring, sticking with a regular, healthy timetable is important.

Fresh air and outdoor exercise increase blood circulation and improve oxygen supply to the brain, making people more alert.

Adjusting diet can also help relieve the problem. Modern research indicates that sleepiness in spring is usually accompanied by insufficient protein and vitamins as well as an acidic internal balance.

Eating more alkaline foods, such as fresh vegetables, can help rebalance the system, while greasy foods and alcohol can aggravate the problem.

Fruits rich in potassium, such as bananas, oranges and grapes, help stimulate the nerves.

Eating more protein is recommended.

Traditional Chinese medicine suggests yang-reinforcing foods such as jujubes, jams, potatoes and tomatoes to maintain energy.

Skipping meals or eating too much makes one feel drowsy, aggravating the sleepiness problem in spring.

Quick tips

Brush teeth with fresh-scented toothpaste.

Splash face with cold water.

Eat something spicy or sour.

Drink a cup of strong tea or coffee.

Inhale some feng you jing essential balm containing mint, camphor and eucalyptus oil for a jolt.

Keep scented plants around, such as daphne odera, caryopteris incana and basil.

Listen to fast music.

Get some fresh air and do a bit of exercise, such as walking briskly.

Energizing juice blend

Ingredients: 1 banana, 1/3 pineapple, half papaya


Chop, make juice in blender.

Drink a couple of times daily between meals.

Benefits: Rich in potassium that calcium content stimulates nerves.

Rich in potassium that stimulates nervous system.

Herbal tea

Ingredients: huang qi/milk vetch (16g), dried orange peel (8g), sheng ma/black cohash rhizome (8g)


Soak ingredients in about 1,500-mililiter boiling water, cover 10-15 minutes. Sweeten to taste.

Benefits: Huang qi reinforces energy; sheng ma stimulates nerves; orange peel aids digestion.

March and April is the prime season for fresh bamboo shoots, an alkaline, potassium-rich vegetable that helps relieve springtime sleepiness.

Bamboo shoots are available all year round, but those picked in spring taste best.

They are low in sugar and fat but high in fiber, they help lower cholesterol and blood pressure. They are rich in phytonutrients and fight inflammation.

Traditional Chinese medicine classifies bamboo shoots as a "cool" (yin) energy food that can help dispel pathogenic heat, dissolve phlegm and soothe nerves.

Bamboo shoots are rich in oxalic acid that reduces the absorption of calcium, so growing children should not eat too much. Those with gallstones and kidney stones should avoid them.

Bamboo shoots should not be eaten raw, as they contain small amounts of toxic prussic acid; they must be peeled and cooked.

Bamboo shoots with chicken soup

Ingredients: bamboo shoots (500g), vegetables in brine (50g), chicken soup (150ml)


1. Peel and chop bamboo shoots. Cook in boiling water for 10 minutes, cool in cold water.

2. Soak vegetables in boiled water for five minutes. Remove, filter, chop.

3. Combine chicken soup, bamboo shoots, salt, sugar and yellow wine.

Benefits: Dispels pathogenic heat, dissolve phlegm, laxative.


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