The value of sleep is severely underestimated in today’s culture. Many people come to accept the fact that getting less than 8 hours of sleep per night is adequate for proper functioning. Long term sleep deprivation, however, may be the beginning of a long and slow decline in health. Sleep allows the body to restore and heal itself. When people are not getting enough time to “recharge their batteries”, this is when bodily functions may start going haywire. For many people, finding time to sleep is not the problem, but rather the ability to fall and stay asleep is what is keeping people awake.
Acupuncture and Chinese medicine (CM) is an effective means to treat insomnia without prescription drugs. CM views each person with their own unique set of symptoms in order to create a “diagnosis” and treatment plan. For example, the person who had difficulty falling asleep is treated differently than the person who has difficulty staying asleep, versus the person that has restless sleep, and so on. However, there are specific energies from different organ channels that are often involved in insomnia. First is the heart channel. The heart houses the shen, or consciousness. During the day, the shen is active and allows people to interact with the world. At night, the shen sleeps in the heart. The shen’s ability to rest in the heart is determined by the amount of nourishment or pathologic factors that may be present. For example, if the shen is not properly nourished by blood, the shen may “wander” during the night. This would manifest as dreaming or even sleep walking. Typically if there is a lack of blood nourishment, patients report difficulty to initially fall asleep. If there is the pathological presence of heat in the heart, this is said to agitate the heart, leading to the inability to calm down to fall asleep and vivid dreaming that feels real.
Another organ system that plays a role in insomnia is the kidney. The kidneys are the root of yin and yang in the body. Yin is a heavy, cooling and nourishing energy whereas yang is light, energetic and warming to the body. Night time is the most yin part of the day, and therefore having enough yin nourishment is imperative to allowing the body and shen to sleep. The main sign of kidney yin deficiency-type insomnia presents as an inability to stay asleep throughout the night. Also, since kidney yin is a cooling energy, people who wake in the middle of the night with hot flashes or night sweats are also major signs of kidney yin deficiency.
Of course, there are often more than one energy system involved with any imbalance. Discussing your specific symptoms and duration of insomnia are always important clues for an acupuncturist to put together a proper “diagnosis”. Treatment of insomnia typically involves the use of both acupuncture and Chinese herbs to appropriately treat the condition. Of course, the length of treatment with CM is typically proportional to the length of the problem; it will take a longer course of treatment to treat insomnia lasting for 10 years versus insomnia that has just begun a few months ago.