Insomnia is more than tossing and turning. It’s more serious than an inability to fall asleep early and has more debilitating effects than are commonly recognized. An estimated 32 million people – about one in eight – suffer from insomnia in the U.S. Oriental medicine, with its focus on healing whole syndromes rather than individual symptoms, has shown great success treating those who experience insomnia.
Insomnia may present itself in different ways. For some, the inability to fall asleep is the most noticeable symptom while others are unable to reach a deep level of sleep and are startled awake by every noise. These symptoms would frustrate any sleeper, but night after night for months or years the most serious issues of insomnia accumulate – the daytime effects. These can include physical tiredness, difficulty concentrating and feeling depressed, irritable or lethargic. Oriental medicine is a great treatment option – it focuses on patients’ individual symptoms and builds a whole-healing plan from these. And it has been widely successful in treating depression, stress and physical pain.
Insomnia may have a number of causes, including stress, depression or anxiety; irregular work schedules; medications, drug or alcohol abuse; major life changes; chronic pain, hyperthyroidism or arthritis. Acupuncture and herbal medicine have high success rates with each of these causes and can therefore treat insomnia at its root.
A study published recently in the American Journal of Chinese Medicine, reports that patients who received acupressure and transcutaneous electrical acupoint stimulation (TEAS) experienced a significant improvement in problems of fatigue, sleep quality and depression. The results from this study suggest that acupressure or TEAS might have an important role in managing patients with fatigue, poor sleep quality and depression.
Oriental medicine relates insomnia to the heart. Of course, a complete diagnosis and treatment system would focus on each individual, and the many syndromes that are differentiated within the context of insomnia would be explored. Other organ systems and syndromes may be involved, and until the body is brought back into balance through OM treatment, insomnia symptoms will continue.
One contributor to insomnia, stress, weakens the function of the Liver, which in turn affects the health of your nerves. According to the 5 Element Theory, the relationship between the Liver and nerves flows both ways, causing the function of the Liver to be weakened from the accumulation of things that “get on your nerves.” Stress-related insomnia is often accompanied by another nerve-induced problem: restless leg syndrome. This can make bedtime even more of a battle for sleep. When your Liver is unbalanced and being asked to deliver energy it does not have, uncomfortable symptoms are your body’s way of signaling the need to get things back into harmony.
Acupuncture has a calming effect on the nervous system. It clears obstructions in the muscle and nerve channels, facilitates the flow of oxygen-enriched energy and relaxes the system. Common noted benefits of acupuncture include deeper breathing, improved digestive abilities, better sleeping patterns, decrease in various pains and a general sense of well being, which are all excellent treatments for insomnia. General acupuncture protocol for the treatment of chronic insomnia includes 10 initial treatments at two to three treatments per week, followed by a two to four week observational period and possibly one treatment per week.
Acupuncture and herbs can greatly improve sleeping patterns, but in order to successfully and completely resolve sleep disturbance one must address all the contributing factors. Oriental medicine helps do this by treating the whole person and focusing on brining the entire body into balance.