In Chinese medicine, we see many patients suffering from insomnia for a variety of reasons. In order to create a tailored treatment plan, we take a look at the whole body and determine the underlying Traditional Chinese Medicine organ imbalance.
Sleep issues often coincide with anxiety, overthinking, hormone imbalances, and gut issues. Of course, if sleep is disturbed by having to get up to go to the bathroom or pain, for example, we address those concerns first. But in order to differentiate each person’s insomnia type, we first determine if it’s a matter of quality of sleep vs quantity of sleep. An issue with quality of sleep can mean the sleep isn’t deep enough and the person doesn’t wake feeling rested. Quantity of sleep can be a difficulty falling asleep or waking up early and unable to fall back asleep. This will help us determine our tailored acupuncture point prescription.
From a TCM perspective, insomnia can involve various organ systems - usually Heart, Kidney, Spleen and Liver. If there is Heart involvement, the person might be having vivid dreams. If there is Spleen involvement, the person might also be suffering from digestion issues. This person might also be overthinking and ruminating over undigested thoughts. (Note that serotonin and melatonin are produced in the gut.)
Is there a noticeable pattern of waking times? If there is a noticeable pattern to waking times this has significance in Chinese medicine in relation to the organ clock. For example, waking between 1-3 a.m. – which is the Liver time – can indicate that the Liver Qi may be taxed by stress or lifestyle choices. Ideally, one should be in deep sleep by 1 a.m. so a bedtime prior to 11 p.m. is ideal. It’s also common for many women going through perimenopause to wake between 1-3 a.m. We can address the hormonal imbalance by anchoring Yin so that it is able to stabilize Yang. Estrogen is a Yin substance, and Yin overall is the cooling and calming aspect of the body.
Yin time is also that time that we devote to rest, as opposed to Yang time which is related to work and activity. How much time are you devoting to rest or relaxation in your non-sleeping time? Ideally, the goal is a balance between Yin and Yang. If you sleep eight hours, the ideal would be four hours of rest and relaxation (this includes time for fun). One way to set yourself up for a better night’s sleep is to consider your morning routine. It might be a better choice to hold off on the caffeine jolt and checking work emails.
There are also a variety of herbal formulas to support sleep depending on the organ disharmony. However, I prefer to first take the approach of subtracting that which could be at the root of the imbalance and see if there is any shift. I recommend a 30-day elimination diet that hits the pause button on caffeine, sugar and alcohol. Everyone’s level of sensitivity can vary especially when stress levels are high or during hormonal changes. Some people can’t tolerate any caffeine and for some two glasses of red wine a week might be too much.
While chronic insomnia can be stubborn, an integrative approach is best, which is why we also recommend lifestyle tweaks in addition to acupuncture. As we are healing imbalances at a root level, it can take up to three months to heighten quality of sleep. However, difficulty falling asleep (sleep onset insomnia) tends to resolve more quickly.
Whatever your unique sleep patterns are, rest assured that you have options beyond sleeping aids! Take the next step and get down to the root of the issue by scheduling an acupuncture appointment to unlock your best sleep.