Treating Insomnia with Chinese Medicine

This article was printed in the Nelson Daily News in December, 2008.

Question: I have suffered from insomnia for some time. Can Chinese Medicine and/or acupuncture help me sleep?
-Sleepless in the Kootenay

Dear Sleepless in the Kootenay:

Chinese medicine and acupuncture have been used to treat insomnia for thousands of years. Insomnia means the inability to have a normal sleep, and includes difficulty falling asleep, shallow sleep or difficulty falling back to sleep once woken up. In severe cases the patient might not sleep for the whole night.

Episodes of insomnia may occur naturally from time to time, but when the condition continues for some time it can become pathological and sets off a whole cascade of events.

An ancient Chinese physician, Zhang Jing-Yue, wrote: “Sleep is yin and ruled by the spirit. If the spirit is quiet there will be sleep. If the spirit is not quiet there is no sleep”.

Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) theory begins with the theory of yin yang. Most basically, Yang is associated with day, activity and wakeful hours. Yin is associated with night, stillness and sleep. The spirit, or ‘ Shen’ in Chinese, is a combination of the heart and mind; the two are inseparable in Chinese medicine. Insomnia, often associated with disturbances of the psyche, will affect the state of the heart. The spirit is quiet when anchored by the Yin. When the Yin is deficient, or the yang energy overactive, the spirit has nowhere to rest.

TCM treats insomnia with both acupuncture and herbal remedies. Treatment will depend on what is the underlying cause of the insomnia. This must be differentiated by the TCM practitioner. A proper diagnosis is key to successfully treating insomnia. Insomnia may be caused by a number of factors including physical strain, mental and emotional stress or improper diet. All these things must be examined in the patient’s life and adjusted to increase a state of balance. This will be different for each individual.

If you are suffering from insomnia you can start by practicing to eliminate stress and worry from your life. Begin by identifying factors that trigger these emotions and take steps to reduce these triggers. Reduce emotional stress and reduce or refrain from stimulants like smoking, alcohol, coffee or tea, especially in the evening before bed. A bit of physical activity each day will help further reduce stress and regulate the flow of blood throughout the body.

For a complete TCM consultation, individual diagnosis and treatment for insomnia see a TCM practitioner or contact the Academy of Classical Oriental Sciences Outpatient clinic.

Best wishes for a good sleep and sweet dreams!

written by Jennifer Dunn, Registered TCM Practitioner and instructor at the Academy of Classical Oriental Sciences.