Insomnia - A Chinese Medicine Perspective
What is Insomnia?
Insomnia is a common sleep disorder that can make it hard to fall asleep, hard to stay asleep, or cause you to wake up too early and not be able to get back to sleep. You may still feel tired when you wake up. Insomnia can sap not only your energy level and mood but also your health, work performance and quality of life.
Pharmacological treatment is effective but frequently with significant side effects. Acupuncture is traditionally used for the treatment of insomnia in China and now is widely accepted in the Western countries .
Insomnia symptoms may include:
- Difficulty falling asleep at night
- Waking up during the night
- Waking up too early
- Not feeling well-rested after a night’s sleep
- Daytime tiredness or sleepiness
- Irritability, depression or anxiety
- Difficulty paying attention, focusing on tasks or remembering
- Increased errors or accidents
- Ongoing worries about sleep
How Does Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) view Insomnia
In Chinese medicine Insomnia is categorised with somnolence and poor memory. Marciocia states that “the mind is rooted in the Heart and specifically in Heart-Blood and Heart-Yin. If the Heart is healthy and the Blood abundant, the Mind is properly rooted and sleep will be sound. If the Heart is deficient or if it is agitated by pathogenic factors such as Fire, the Mind is not properly rooted and sleep will be affected.
Causes of insomnia include:
- Overexertion and Worry
- Irregular Diet
- Residual Heat
Any one or a combination of these causes can lead to an imbalance in the organs and thus result in insomnia. The most important distinction is that between Full- and Empty-type of insomnia.
- Liver-Fire blazing
- Heart-Fire blazing
- Phlegm-Heat disturbing the Mind
- Residual Heat in the diaphragm
- Heart and Spleen Blood Deficiency
- Heat-Yin Deficiency
- Heart & Kidney not harmonising
- Heart and Gall-Bladder Deficiency, and
- Liver-Yin Deficiency
Each of these organ imbalances are treated differently and have different accompanying symptoms. For example Liver-Fire blazing (Full or Excess type insomnia) is associated with symptoms such as Restless sleep, unpleasant dreams, nightmares, irritability, headaches, thirst, dark urine, Red tongue body and Rapid pulse. Whereas Heart & Kidney not harmonising (Deficiency type insomnia) presents with symptoms such as: Waking up frequently during the night, difficulty in falling asleep, dry throat, night-seats, poor memory, palpitations, dizziness, mental restlessness.
Research has shown that Acupuncture is a safe and effective treatment for insomnia [3,4,5].
At Kurrajong Natural Medicine Centre our highly qualified and experienced team of practitioners are happy to develop a personalised treatment programme with you. Simply call (02)4573 0784
What You Can Do to Help Yourself
Keep regular sleep hours
Going to bed and getting up at roughly the same time every day will programme your body to sleep better. Choose a time when you’re likely to feel tired and sleepy.
Create a restful sleeping environment
Your bedroom should be a peaceful place for rest and sleep. Temperature, lighting and noise should be controlled so that your bedroom environment helps you to fall (and stay) asleep.
If you have a pet that sleeps in the room with you, consider moving it somewhere else if it often disturbs you in the night.
Make sure your bed is comfortable
It’s difficult to get restful sleep on a mattress that’s too soft or too hard, or a bed that’s too small or old.
Moderate exercise on a regular basis, such as swimming or walking, can help relieve some of the tension built up over the day. But make sure you do not do vigorous exercise, such as running or the gym, too close to bedtime, as it may keep you awake. Find out more about how to get active your way.
Cut down on caffeine
Cut down on caffeine in tea, coffee, energy drinks or colas, especially in the evening. Caffeine interferes with the process of falling asleep, and also prevents deep sleep. Instead, have a warm, milky drink or herbal tea.
Do not over-indulge
Too much food or alcohol, especially late at night, can interrupt your sleep patterns. Alcohol may help you to fall asleep initially, but it will disrupt your sleep later on in the night.
Do not smoke
Nicotine is a stimulant. People who smoke take longer to fall asleep, wake up more frequently, and often have more disrupted sleep.
Try to relax before going to bed
Have a warm bath, listen to quiet music or do some gentle yoga to relax your mind and body. Your GP may be able to recommend a helpful relaxation CD.
Write away your worries
If you tend to lie in bed thinking about everything you have to do tomorrow, set aside time before bedtime to make plans for the next day. The aim is to avoid doing these things when you’re in bed, trying to sleep.
If you cannot sleep, get up
If you cannot sleep, do not lie there worrying about it. Get up and do something you find relaxing until you feel sleepy again, then go back to bed.
Make an appointment to see your healthcare professional if lack of sleep is persistent and it’s affecting your daily life.
- Zhao K. (2013). Acupuncture for the treatment of insomnia. International review of neurobiology, 111, 217–234. https://doi.org/10.1016/B978-0-12-411545-3.00011-0
- Marciocia, G. (1994) The Practice of Chinese Medicine: The Treatment of Disease with Acupuncture and Chinese Herbs, Edinburgh: Elsevier Churchill Livingstone.
- Yin, X., Gou, M., Xu, J., Dong, B., Yin, P., Masquelin, F., Wu, J., Lao, L., & Xu, S. (2017). Efficacy and safety of acupuncture treatment on primary insomnia: a randomized controlled trial. Sleep medicine, 37, 193–200. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.sleep.2017.02.012
- Lin, Y. F., Liu, Z. D., Ma, W., & Shen, W. D. (2016). Hazards of insomnia and the effects of acupuncture treatment on insomnia. Journal of integrative medicine, 14(3), 174–186. https://doi.org/10.1016/S2095-4964(16)60248-0
- He, W., Li, M., Zuo, L., Wang, M., Jiang, L., Shan, H., Han, X., Yang, K., & Han, X. (2019). Acupuncture for treatment of insomnia: An overview of systematic reviews.