Insomnia is a common condition that involves difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep. Everyone experiences a sleepless night once in a while, but trouble sleeping at night that persists from a few nights up to a few weeks indicates acute insomnia, while experiencing difficulty sleeping at least a few nights per week over the course of months would be classified as chronic insomnia. Lack of sleep causes physical and mental distress that can seriously impact daily functioning and mood. While there are many types of medication available to help with sleep, they are only meant to be used on a short-term basis, and they can cause negative side effects. Acupuncture has been shown to be effective for people struggling with insomnia, with no side effects.
Prescription drugs like Ambien and Belsomra work on receptors in the brain to induce sleep. However, both of these medications are metabolized by the liver and therefore contraindicated for anyone with an impaired liver. According to TCM, many sleep complaints are related to the health of the liver 气(Qì). Medications that further exhaust the liver’s ability to do its job are not meant to be long-term remedies for insomnia. One sleep lab study showed that, as measured objectively by polysomnography, sleep quality improved in patients receiving acupuncture treatment.
Symptoms of Insomnia
Onset Insomnia refers to the experience of having trouble falling asleep, while maintenance insomnia means waking during the night and being unable to get back to sleep. Some of the symptoms of insomnia and other sleep problems are clearly related to actual sleep behaviors. Others affect seemingly unrelated parts of the body. Persistent lack of sleep affects the health of the whole body, as well as the mind and spirit. Insomnia can cause the following signs and symptoms:
- Difficulty falling asleep
- Difficulty staying asleep
- Excessive dreaming, nightmares
- Restless sleep, frequently awakening with a start
- Difficulty getting back to sleep
- “Half sleep” or shallow sleep
- Daytime drowsiness
- Poor memory
- Dry mouth or bitter taste in the mouth
- Heavy feeling in the chest
- Feverish sensations in the palms, soles and chest
- Skin pale and lifeless
- Ruddy/red complexion
- Poor appetite, loss of taste sensation
- Bloodshot eyes
- Back pain
- Knee pain
Many people suffering from insomnia report feelings of depression and/or anxiety. Sleep problems can also affect weight, causing weight gain for some and weight loss for others. Acupuncturists look carefully at the whole range of both somatic and psychological symptoms displayed before coming to a conclusion about what is causing the sleep difficulty.
How to Sleep Better with Acupuncture and TCM
TCM treats symptoms holistically and in concert. Records of insomnia as an affliction to be treated with acupuncture and herbs go back over 2000 years. A qualified acupuncturist looks at the whole picture of a person’s symptoms, habits, lifestyle, and foundational constitution and then creates a unique, personalized treatment plan to address the underlying causes of the sleep problems. TCM providers use observations of a patient’s tongue, skin pallor, and pulse to diagnose what is going on in the organ systems of the body that is creating the particular collection of symptoms.
TCM theory incorporates concepts for bodily processes that relate to the elements: fire, wind, dampness, and cold. Qi, the life force energy that flows through the body, carrying vitality, needs support and nourishment, or it can become depleted. Yin and Yang energies balance each other. TCM classifies insomnia by patterns of symptoms that indicate which energies and elements are too abundant or too scarce.
Top 3 Insomnia Causes According to TCM
Each person’s sleep experience and pattern of symptoms is unique. Your TCM provider will ask many questions about your schedule, habits, and healthy history to get a sense of your situation. Feelings throughout the body are clues as to what is going on with the organ systems and how to bring them back into balance.
- Deficiency of heart and spleen – often seen in older people, it is easy to fall asleep, but then dreams cause disturbance, and once awakened, it is hard to get back to sleep. During the daytime, they may feel dizzy, low energy, absent-minded, fatigued. Pale complexion and tongue and a weak pulse are indicators. In these cases, the spleen, which acts as a major producer of nutrients within the body, has become overworked and is not nourishing the heart enough. In turn, the heart, which normally houses the Shen (spirit), can’t contain it. Thus, the Shen wanders, causing forgetfulness and restlessness. In these cases, the TCM doctor will work with acupuncture points and herbs to strengthen the spleen and heart and promote an increase in nutrient-rich blood and Qi.
- Hyperactivity of fire due to yin deficiency – this presentation involves difficulty falling asleep, a sense of having been “up all night.” Patients with this pattern may also experience night sweats, hot sensations in their hands, feet, and chest, heart palpitations, ringing in the ears, and dry mouth. In this case, exhaustion of the kidneys affects the nourishment of the brain, causing the symptoms in the head and sense organs. Kidney weakness also gives rise to more fire energy in the heart and liver. TCM methods are used to cool the fire and strengthen the Yin energy.
- Liver qi stagnation transforming into fire – difficult to fall asleep, excessive dreaming, accompanied by impatience and irritability, headache, red face, constipation, heavy feeling in chest, frequent sighing, thirst. In some cases, the TCM modality of moxibustion will be used to stimulate the liver qi and improve the quality of sleep.
There are many more types of insomnia classified by Traditional Chinese Medicine theory and practice. A qualified acupuncturist will be able to diagnose a condition so that the health of the whole body and mind is adequately addressed to not only banish sleepless nights, but to boost immunity and overall wellness.
TCM for Insomnia and Anxiety
For many people, insomnia and anxiety are clearly related, so much so that one seems to be causing the other. Sometimes sufferers feel that they lay awake all night, worrying about tomorrow, and then spend the whole day worrying that they won’t be able to sleep again. According to conventional medical thinking, sleep anxiety is essentially a problem of brain chemistry. Acupuncture has been shown to positively influence the secretion of melatonin at night. Acupuncture treatment acts upon the nervous system, facilitating the release of serotonin, endorphins and noradrenaline, neurotransmitters which contribute to relaxation and a sense of well-being.
Approximately 78% of women experience some sleeplessness during pregnancy. Many physical changes–hormone levels, a growing body, aches and pain, itchy skin, frequent urination–disrupt sleep. Vivid dreams and real worries about the baby’s arrival can impair sleep, too. Acupuncture is a safe and effective way to treat aches and pains, hormone balance, and improve sleep quality all at once. One controlled study showed that women receiving acupuncture slept better than those attempting behavioral changes without acupuncture.
Acupuncture for Insomnia and Menopause
Sleep problems are a common complaint among women in their middle years who are experiencing perimenopause or are menopausal. Night sweats or hot flashes disrupt sleep. Kidney or liver yin deficiency can cause light, dreamy sleep, sudden waking between 3:00 – 4:00 a.m., along with daytime fatigue and memory loss. Acupuncture has been shown to help improve sleep, mood and overall quality of life for women in menopause.
Find the Best Acupuncture Near Me for Insomnia
When insomnia is ongoing, your body is unable to get the rest and renewal it needs. Disturbed sleep can cause difficulty concentrating, diminished energy, low mood, and trouble performing everyday tasks. Since sleep strengthens the immune system, insomnia can also leave you susceptible to many other health concerns. Luckily, you don’t have to continue to struggle with chronic insomnia. TCM and acupuncture offer natural remedies for sleep. You may find that you sleep better after your very first session, though you will most likely benefit most from a series of treatments. At Art of Wellness, our doctors are ready to help you get a good night’s sleep.