Sleep is quite a strange thing. Every night we close our eyes and (hopefully) drift off assuming we will at some point, wake up.
Whatever the reason, we do need to sleep! and until you’ve had a serious bout of insomnia, you just can’t appreciate how wonderful it is to sleep through the night! Everything improves – your mood, energy levels, memory, patience, focus, optimism, pain levels…
Suffice it to say – life is a very different experience.
The World Health Organisation associates insomnia primarily with mood and anxiety disorders. Experts suspect the blue light given off by tablets and mobile phones may hamper the brain’s processing of the hormone melatonin, which can induce relaxation and sleep. Clearly, the reasons are wide and varied.
Common synonyms for insomnia include wakefulness, restlessness and watchfulness which gives us a clue about the nature of insomnia – a difficulty turning in(wards) at night time. “To turn” means to change direction.
According the Traditional Medicine theory, the underlying causes of insomnia lie in the body’s ability to adequately radiate and circulate Yang Qi, and the body’s ability to generate and circulate sufficient blood during the day. This leads to problems at night when the Yang Qi circulating around the body’s meridian system ‘turns inwards’ and combines with the existing Yang Qi stored in the blood and the organs. We can experience different forms of insomnia depending on the quantity and location of this additional Yang Qi.
Traditional medicine classifies insomnia by the following types:-
• Difficulty in falling to sleep
• Awakening during the night
• Unable to sleep at all
• Waking up early
• Excessive dreaming and not feeling rested after sleeping.
There can also be some crossover between these types.
Of these types, not being able to sleep at all has to be the most distressing. This most often occurs in people with “blood deficiency” which may correlate in some cases to anemia. In these cases, insomnia arises from anything which can lead to the exhaustion of blood. These include heavy periods, excessive worrying or thinking, postpartum, post surgery, accidents etc. Acupuncture can help support the generation of blood and ease feelings of irritation and tension.
Waking up early or needing to urinate at night is also very common and often seen in the elderly where the Kidney function is declining. This creates a large amount of heat which rises and causes them to wake up. Acupuncture aims to tonify the kidneys and remove or recirculate the unwanted heat.
The most common pharmacological intervention for insomnia is benzodiazepines. These carry a high risk of tolerance and dependency. Research suggests acupuncture to be effective in the treatment of insomnia. Another promising drug-free avenue is meditation. A small study suggests that mindfulness meditation – a mind-calming practice that focuses on breathing and awareness of the present moment – can also help with insomnia. They can help our body learn how to turn in(wards) for the night.
Acupuncture and meditation are natural approaches which help induce a sense of relaxation in the body. This can help to evoke the relaxation response at night time allowing you to sleep deeper, faster and longer.
1. Journal Altern Complement Med. “Acupuncture for treatment of insomnia: a systematic review of randomized controlled trials. 2009 Nov;15.
2. American Academy of Sleep Medicine. “Meditation May Be An Effective Treatment For Insomnia.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 15 June 2009.