Acupuncture for Sleeping Disorders
Nothing is worse than not sleeping well. That is what I hear every day from people who suffer from insomnia. When we can’t sleep well, nothing is right. We are tired, moody, irritable, our muscles are stiff, our head hurts, we can hardly think or function. Furthermore, lack of adequate sleep can cause serious health problems. Most doctors now believe that chronic insomnia brings on the symptoms of fibromyalgia and contributes to cardiovascular stress, not to mention the countless car accidents caused by people falling asleep at the wheel.
Western medicine and traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) have different approaches to insomnia. To Western doctors, treating chronic insomnia, the usual response is sleeping pills or anti-depressants. Sleeping disorders are more common than people think, this is one problem that is very successfully treated with acupuncture.
Chinese Medical Theory
In TCM, (Traditional Chinese Medicine) a primary concept is the idea of “root and branch.” Symptoms like insomnia are considered to be the branches of a disease. The root of the disease is a dysfunction or imbalance of the fundamental substances of Chinese medicine which include Qi (energy) (pronounced chi), blood, yin, yang, jing, and Shen, or of the major organ systems like the lungs, heart, spleen, liver, and kidneys. When a person suffers from insomnia, the two organs most often out of balance are the Heart and the Liver. Each of these two organs houses a specific aspect of the spirit. If these organs are out of balance, they will not be able to house the spirit properly, and the spirit will wander causing lucid dreaming and restlessness. TCM (Traditional Chines Medicine) although a very complex medical system, it had its origins in ancient Taoism, and before that in Shamanism. Therefore, there is a spiritual consciousness built into TCM theory. A wandering spirit, or Shen disturbance, can manifest in a number of ways, including mood disorders and heart palpitations, but insomnia is one of the commonest symptoms. Insomnia is only a symptom of stress and anxiety, only by treating the underlying stress will lead to a reduction in the insomnia.
The Shen (spirit)
According to Traditionl Chinese Medicine (TCM) theory, insomnia is associated with agitation of the Shen. Shen is a form of Qi (energy), It is the “lightest”, least substantial and least stable form of Qi. Shen plays a role in the higher mental functions associated with the intellect and the spiritual aspects of consciousness. Shen is light and subtle, therefore it must be anchored by the yin aspect of Qi and blood or else it is possible it could “float away” leading to dream disturbed sleep. The ancient Chinese medical text “The Spiritual Axis” states When the Heart is in excess, one dreams of laughing…When the Heart is deficient, one dreams of mountains, fire, and smoke.” Please don’t be alarmed, this does not mean that there is something physically wrong with the heart, in TCM it is the energy of the organ that is being talked about not its function, the subtle heart energies get disturbed through stress, thats why people with insomnia can also have palpitations. In Chinese medicine, sleep is seen as one’s yang (strong, positive energy) energy moving inward to be enfolded by yin. (deep negative earth energy) Insomnia therefore, is a dysfunction in the interchange of yang entering yin. The Shen must be calm at night and is housed by the heart during sleep. If this is disturbed it will result in disturbed sleep and insomnia. For Shen/heart disturbance I would along with regular acupuncture treatment I would sometimes prescribe the Chinese herbal formula An “Shen” Buxin Wan. Difficulty getting over to sleep is usually related to an excess condition of the Liver or Liver and Gall Bladder. People will lie awake, tossing and turning for hours. Acupuncture points that sooth the liver energy would always be used in these cases of insomnia. The Chinese herbal formula Xiao Yao Wan combined with acupuncture would be very effective in clearing excess and stagnant Liver Qi. Stress and anxiety are the root causes of most if not all-sleeping disturbances so lifestyle changes would also have to be considered to compliment the treatments.
Acupuncture has many positive benefits. It is safe (sterile disposable needles are always used), it is effective for a wide variety of health problems, and it is free of side effects. It has been scientifically demonstrated that acupuncture has a profound effect on the body’s central nervous system, and can increase levels of several neurotransmitters, including serotonin. Acupuncture promotes natural sleeping patterns, and doesn’t have the hangover effect that most sleeping pills do. If you have been having problems with your sleep, it may be worthwhile to give acupuncture a try before taking heavy-duty medications. If you are currently taking sleeping pills and are bothered by the side effects, consider talking to your Chinese medicine practitioner about alternatives.
Kim- Dip.Ac. Lic.Ac. C.Ac. China MQP is a registered licensed practitioner of Chinese Medicine. Treatments are VHi, LAYA, Irish Life and HSF Healthplan approved.
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