Insomnia and Chinese Medicine

Acupuncture / Chinese Medicine / Female Health / Insomnia / Male Health

You are exhausted and grateful that the day is over. Nothing is going to keep you awake tonight – or at least that’s what you think. As soon as your head hits the pillow it starts again; that internal chatter that has kept you awake for so many nights. You have to endure a constant inner conversation where you spiral over the same frustrating thoughts, most of which seem irrelevant when all you need is some damn sleep.

We live during stressful times, and insomnia is a complaint frequently encountered in the acupuncture clinic where Western medicine offers little in the way of relief. Antidepressant medication can help some people, but generally, drug therapy causes drowsiness, interferes with the quality of sleep, and can cause rebound insomnia unless ever higher doses are taken. However, in my clinical experience, Insomniac patients have responded very well to Medical Qigong and acupuncture.

To those trained in the Western analytical tradition, it seems mystifying that acupuncture points on the surface of the body could affect the psyche. However Chinese Medicine does not accept the mind-body duality that has influenced Western scientific thinking since Descartes. It also does not agree with the notion that consciousness is merely the product of chemical interactions in the brain. Chinese medical theory grew out of the insights of ancient Taoist philosophers, who believed that all the phenomena of nature and mind were interconnected. They were manifestations of one essence, Life Energy or Qi (pronounced Chee). Interestingly this concept is embraced by modern physics where matter and energy are seen as two aspects of one reality – E = mc2.

According to Chinese Medicine insomnia is generally considered to be associated with the Heart, Kidneys and Liver organs. Mental activity and consciousness reside in the Heart, which pumps blood, but is also the seat of awareness and higher consciousness. The view is that if the Heart is agitated or deficient the “Shen” or spirit consciousness cannot root and sleep will be affected. This is because there is too much heat in the Heart which can be a result of weakness in the Kidneys caused by fire and water being out of balance. The Heart is the organ of fire, whilst the Kidney is the water organ. Water normally subdues fire, but if the Kidneys are weak then there is not enough water and the fire gets out of control. With this form of insomnia the acupuncturist will act to sedate Heart fire and nourish the Kidneys.

Chinese doctors recognise that Insomnia can take many forms. Moreover each individual is unique requiring a distinct treatment approach. Another common form of insomnia is where the individual has no difficulty falling asleep but often wakes during the night and remains restless. This is considered to be due to Liver Blood deficiency and results in the “Three Hun” being deprived of their residence forcing them to wander at night causing restless sleep. The Three Hun are that spiritual part of man which ascends into the Divine at the end of life. Those suffering from Liver Blood deficiency will often have a dull pale complexion, pale lips and an aversion to sunlight. Once again acupuncture can be very effective and the individual will also be advised to follow a diet which nourishes Liver Blood. So it seems that even Count Dracula could have benefited from Chinese Medicine!

Acupuncture has an extremely calming effect and it can correct many of the imbalances which cause insomnia without any harmful side effects. Besides improved sleep people often experience a greater sense of well-being and an overall improvement in health and energy.

Sleep disturbances sometimes require a combination of therapies. In addition to acupuncture, advanced Medical Qigong therapy can also have dramatic effects. If you suffer from Insomnia try this ancient Qigong exercise which I have prescribed with great success at the clinic. This exercise should be performed sitting on your bed with a pillow at your back which you can fall back onto as you drift into sleep. Sweet dreams!

1. Clap your hands and rub them together to draw heat from your Heart
2. Massage your lower back in the kidney area known as Mingmen or “Gate of Vitality” 36 times
3. Place both hands over your Mingmen area and during 3 breaths imagine sending Qi from your hands into your kidneys.
4. Repeat 2 or 3 three times
5. Place your right ankle on your left knee and your right hand on your navel. Now with your left hand gently massage the sole of the right foot until you start to fall asleep.

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