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At some time in our lives, we will all suffer with problems sleeping. Whether it is trouble falling asleep or waking in the night and not being able to get back to sleep again, I think most of us have been there. Although it may not often be the reason someone seeks out acupuncture, in my experience, it is often discovered during the initial consultation. Insomnia is one of those ambiguous problems that is often difficult to treat. I am happy to say that acupuncture works wonders.

A Good Night Sleep

Like most things, insomnia has many different causes. This is why Chinese medicine handles it so effectively. Acupuncture treatments are so highly individualistic that things with potentially many causes like insomnia are treated with great results. I can say that it wasn’t often that a patient came to see me with insomnia as their chief complaint, but I did find that many people suffer with it, both periodically and on an ongoing basis and that acupuncture always helped to resolve it.

So why is it that insomnia is something people rarely seek treatment for? Well, perhaps because its causes are so numerous. In Chinese medicine, a detailed medical history and thorough analysis of all aspects of a person’s health and lifestyle are important for coming to the correct aetiology and diagnosis. In a busy world, doctors don’t often have the time to sit down with a patient and really get to the bottom of what is going on. For an acupuncturist, it is an essential part of diagnosis and treatment.

Below are some of the common root causes of insomnia. There are many factors to consider and difficulty falling or staying asleep is often a combination of many factors (physical, emotional, psychological), and not just one or two, but here are some of the common physiological symptoms and their organ interactions to help you better understand why you may be having trouble with your sleep.

Liver Heat / Fire

If you are experiencing chronic insomnia and have symptoms of irritability, are easily angered, have pains in your ribs and often have a bitter taste on your mouth, it points to too much heat in the liver – an imbalance in the liver system. In TCM, the liver is responsible for the smooth flow of qi throughout the body. It stores the blood and its emotion is anger. Any repressed emotions can particularly affect the liver and excessive anger or frustration is a sign that the liver is out of balance.

Treatment Principle

For extra heat in the liver causing insomnia, the treatment principle is to drain liver heat and balance out the shen, or mind/spirit. Heat often speeds up not only body processes but thoughts as well, causing the mind to race making it difficult to sleep. Acupuncture is used very effectively to remove excess liver heat and return sleeping patterns to normal.

Heat & Phlegm

If you have insomnia with a full, heavy feeling in the chest, have poor digestion and/or lack of appetite, nausea, dizziness and perhaps also a bitter taste in the mouth, this points to phlegm heat. Another diagnostic tool to use to diagnose heat and phlegm is to look at the tongue – it will often have a yellow, greasy type coating.

Treatment Principle

The treatment principle for heat and phlegm in the body is to tonify or build up the spleen (a deficient spleen leads to phlegm) and to tonify qi as well so that the spleen has the energy to keep up its vital processes, including digestion (it also controls the blood and governs the muscles). We clear heat and tonify the spleen so that it will no longer produce phlegm. The mind is also calmed so that peaceful sleep can be attained. Acupuncture points are chosen to achieve all of this and return the body to relative balance so that sleep can occur naturally.

Spleen & Heart Deficiency

Insomnia usually with dreams, poor appetite, fatigue, poor memory and heart palpitations.

Treatment Principle

Acupuncture is used to build up the spleen and the heart so that they have the necessary energy to perform their important functions in the body. The spleen is responsible for maintaining digestion and the heart dominates the blood and vessels, controls the mind and dreaming and its emotion is joy. If the heart is deficient, all of these functions will be diminished, and sleep will be affected. Moxa (the herb mugwort or Artemisia Vulgaris) is often burned either directly on the skin or on an acupuncture needle to help warm and build up the affected organs and the body in general.

Kidney Deficiency

Insomnia with difficulty falling asleep or waking often in the night, a sensation of heat in the palms of the hands, soles of the feet and centre of the chest, night sweats, heart palpitations, dizziness and poor memory. Symptoms can also include a sore lower back and knees.

Treatment Principle

Acupuncture as well as herbs may be used to build up the kidneys which are responsible for controlling growth, reproduction and development. The Kidneys control the body’s water metabolism and governs the bones and hearing. Points to build up the kidneys are used as well as points to calm the mind and spirit. Herbs are often used for building up the kidneys, as they are so fundamental to so many of the body’s processes.

Heart & Gallbladder Deficiency

Insomnia with an overall shy or timid nature, easily startled or frightened, and difficulty making decisions.

Treatment Principle

Acupuncture points are chosen to build up the heart and spleen, regulate the gallbladder, and calm the mind. The gallbladder governs our ability to think clearly and make decisions, so it is important that it is in good health! Herbs may also be used to help these organs get back into balance so sleep can be achieved.

One of the wonderful things about Chinese medicine is its diversity. Depending on the skill and creativity of the practitioner, there are many ways to treat any problem or imbalance. There are a variety of tools at the TCM practitioner’s disposal – acupuncture, herbs, moxibustion, electro-acupuncture, tuina (Chinese medical massage), auricular acupuncture, meditation techniques, and various martial arts. Any and all of these modalities may be used, and it is up to the practitioner to evaluate which would work best for you.

 

Acupuncture Lays Insomnia To Rest
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