Patients battling chronic insomnia can tell you that insufficient or poor quality sleep leads not only to irritability and exhaustion, but also to muscle stiffness, impaired cognitive function, fibromyalgia, and other significant health problems. Commonly, Western medicine will search for a physical or emotional problem causing the sleeplessness, but TCM recognizes that insomnia can stem from a fundamental imbalance of energy, or qi. In traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), sleep is part of the natural rhythm of yin and yang in the body. Yin and yang are opposites: When we sleep, yin is the dominant force in the body. In the day, when we are active, yang dominates. Insomnia is a sign of a disruption to one's natural rhythm of yin and yang.
While Western medicine sleeping pills and anti-depressants are commonly prescribed for insomnia and other sleep disorders, these prescriptions can become addictive and patients can find it difficult to sleep naturally, without pills or medicine in the future. Patients may find better relief through the natural based treatments of acupuncture and herbal remedies.
The pairing of acupuncture with herbal remedies can bring relief to patients with chronic insomnia, nightmares, and even sleep apnea. Clinical studies have shown that acupuncture helps release extra neurotransmitters into the central nervous system, including serotonin which regulates sleep patterns. As a result, acupuncture can be used to improve the quality of sleep without the sluggish side effects associated with most sleeping pills.
Case study: A patient, female, 45, came to me with complaints of difficulty in falling asleep and even when she does fall asleep, experiences lots of dreams. Also she has headaches, rising eye pressure, high blood pressure, tinnitus (ringing in the ears) and a bitter sensation in the mouth.
Upon TCM diagnosis, this is a typical example of liver qi stagnation leading to heat where anger or stress – which is associated with the liver – can affect the flow of qi in the liver. This qi stagnation will result in poor blood circulation to the heart, affecting sleep patterns. With qi stagnation, heat or “fire” accumulates in the liver, leading to symptoms affecting the upper body as seen above, as heat rises.
In this case, acupuncture treatment and Chinese herbal medications are prescribed weekly to move the qi circulation and dissipate the heat accumulated in the liver. After the first few intensive treatments which are done twice a week, the patient commented that her headache has reduced, with some days not experiencing any headache episodes and that her ringing has stopped. After a course of 10 sessions of treatments and medications, she can fall into sleep better, with some days of fully uninterrupted sleep. She is currently still receiving treatments from me for maintenance of health and destress once every two weeks.
To relieve stress and help us sleep better, you will want to stimulate San Yin Jiao (SP6) spot. It is one of the most commonly used points in acupuncture. To find this spot, place four fingers above your ankle on the inside of your leg, just behind the shin bone. To massage this acupoint, press your thumb on it in a circular motion for 6 seconds. Release for 2 seconds. Continue to repeat this for 5 minutes and then switch legs. Do this everyday before bed to help you sleep.
Dr Lim Xiang Jun is registered Dr of Traditional Chinese Medicine Physician whom first completed her BSc(hons) in Biomedical Sciences in Singapore before completing a BSc in Chinese Medicine, MSc and PHD in Acupuncture in Beijing. She is also qualified in Yoga and is a certified Ayurveda Practitioner.