Treating Insomnia with Chinese Medicine

Like most disharmonies, or illnesses, insomnia arises through a variety of different causes. Here lies the great strength of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) when it comes to treating chronic conditions. While western medicine may offer a few different pharmaceutical options aimed at treating the symptom of insomnia, TCM seeks to find the underlying cause-- and this can vary from person to person. Most likely, the underlying cause, or pattern of disharmony, has been in place even before the insomnia was an issue. When you can treat the underlying cause of something, the symptoms will not return. What are the causes of insomnia in TCM?

Illness arises in TCM when the flow of energy in the organs and systems of the body become unbalanced. Unlike western anatomy and physiology, TCM incorporates different functions and attributes to each organ. Each organ cannot be taken out of it's context in the human system. Things work together, ideally, to create balanced functions and overall health. When things go awry due to countless reasons, we experience symptoms. These symptoms point to an underlying problem, called a "pattern of disharmony." The goal of TCM treatment is to treat the underlying pattern, to alleviate symptoms and restore health and harmony to the body.

When it comes to insomnia, there can be a dysfunction in a variety of different organ systems including the heart, kidney, gallbladder, liver or an imbalance of substances including insufficient blood or yin, or an excess of heat or phlegm. A detailed TCM evaluation including tongue and pulse diagnosis will determine which organ systems are affected. Generally, all patterns of insomnia involve the heart.

When we fall asleep, our Shen, or spirit/mind, is said to rest in our heart. If the heart is a suitable place, then the Shen will rest soundly. If there is too much heat affecting the heart, the Shen will not rest. Too much heat can also cause the symptom of vivid dreams, nighmares, and night terrors. Also, if the heart does not have enough blood or yin to nourish and anchor the spirit, the Shen will wander and result in restless sleep, difficulty falling asleep, or waking up too early.

Acupuncture and Chinese Herbs can have a long lasting effect on insomnia. Some "patterns of disharmony" respond more quickly to treatment than others. Generally more than one treatment is needed for a lasting effect.

Herbs can be very useful to treat insomnia. Some herbs make you feel calm while others can treat the underling causes of insomnia. All of the herbs we use are manufactured in GMP regulated facilities with the highest standards, so you can rest assured that we do the work to find the best sources of high quality products to keep you healthy and safe! Commonly used herbs in western herbalism are chamomile, kava and valarian. All of these herbs can be taken to calm your mind in the evening.

General tips for insomnia:

  • Limit caffeine intake during the day
  • Don't drink before bed
  • Eat dinner 2-3 hours before you plan to go to bed
  • Stop looking at screens 1 hour before you would like to fall asleep and don't look at them if you get up in the middle of the night
  • Keep your bedroom dark or wear an eye mask
  • Develop a nighttime relaxation routine such as a shower or bath, calming aromatherapy, reading, etc.
  • Don't stress about it if you are awake. Consider it perfect quiet time to listen to your intuition or meditate.

March Mindfulness

I was thinking back the other day to the day I bought my first book on Eastern philosophy. Nearly 25 years ago, My dad, best friend and I took a road trip in the early spring from Michigan to Colorado. We stopped in a small, independent bookstore enroute, and I picked up a philosophy book that looked interesting. It was a perfect introduction to many different forms of meditation, including mindfulness.

Since then, I have practiced meditation in some form or another. Meditation is just mental development. It's just observing your mind like a scientist vs. a judge. I like mindfulness based mediation because it's something you can practice wherever you are, whenever you can.

It occurred to me that March would be a perfect month for a mindfulness program. Really, any month, any day is a perfect time to start. The point of mindfulness is developing awareness. It's slowing and sometimes, if you're lucky, turning off the mental chatter so you can be more focused, more productive and ultimately more content. I wanted the program to be first and foremost simple. Simple actions done with great awareness are a great reminder to tune-in. Zone-in and not out.

I hope as many people as possible join the #marchmindfulness practice. In this time, in this culture we have more distractions than ever. It's so easy to feel overwhelmed. With practice, we can tame the mental lion and strengthen our "mindfulness muscle." A little bit of mindfulness everyday can go a long way.