TCM has a totally different approach to Western medicine. This means that a Western doctor would normally treat insomnia by diagnosing an underlying emotional problem such as stress, anxiety or depression and would then prescribe anti-depressants and sleeping tablets whilst in TCM the insomnia would be thought of as a branch of a disease and they would be looking to establish where the root of the disease was. The root of a disease is an imbalance in one of the major organ systems of the Heart, Lung, liver Kidneys and Spleen or one of the major substances of Yin, Yang, Chi, Jing and Shen.
TCM looks to establish a type of insomnia and the commonest types are dream-disturbed sleep, problems getting to sleep, problems staying asleep, waking at a set time each night. TCM will also then look to define this down still further so for example a dream disturbed by frequent nightmares are usually associated with a disorder of the Gall Bladder meridian whilst dreams in which actions are repeated or relived are generally considered to arise from a Heart/Spleen Dream disturbed sleep. Difficulty falling asleep is usually associated with a problem with the liver or the liver and gallbladder and not being able to stay asleep is usually linked to a heart/spleen deficiency. The waking at a set time is considered to be relevant as TCM believes that Chi circulates through the meridians over a 24 hour period. For example energy peaks in the Liver meridian at 3:00am so if you were waking at this time every night the problem would be diagnosed as a liver problem.
Acupuncturists take a detailed history, which includes questioning, pulse analysis and tongue diagnosis, to give a complete picture of the patient as a whole. Even if it is determined that two different patients have insomnia as a result of yindeficiency, their treatments may still be different, depending on each person’s constitution (strength and type of overall body and health) and other factors.This is what makes acupuncture so individualized and effective: there is no one prescription for a condition. Each time a patient comes in, they are re-evaluated, and each treatment is specifically selected. This is also why it is so common to see all sorts of symptoms clear up – not just the one someone has come in to treat. Rarely do acupuncturists just work on one symptom alone; in every treatment, the whole person is being addressed and treated.However, some points are so useful in treating insomnia that they will be strongly considered no matter what the cause, including:
Heart 7 (Shen Men), on the wrist, which helps calm the heart and spirit
An Mian, an extra point translated as Peaceful Sleep, which is on the back of the head, where the head meets the neck
Yin Tang, another extra point which is between the eyebrows and promotes relaxation
Moxibustion, or the burning of an herb over points on the body, can also be useful. There is a point in the middle of the heel known as the insomnia point, where moxa cones can be burned. This helps bring a person into balance and helps sleep. Moxa is a Chinese herb, also called Ai Ye (Artemisia argyi). It is dried and processed into a fiber which can be rolled into cones, placed on the skin and burned until warmth is felt.
Chinese herbal formulas can also be effective in helping balance one’s energy and allowing sleep to come more easily. Diagnosing the underlying cause is very important when choosing herbal remedies. There are many formulas which could help treat insomnia; a trained acupuncturist who has studied Chinese herbs could help someone choose what is right for them. The following common formulas can be useful:
An Mian Pian (Sleep Peaceful Formula) for quieting the spirit
Gui Pi Tang (Restore the Spleen Decoction) which strengthens the energy and nourishes the heart
Bao He Wan (Preserves Harmony Pill) which reduces food stagnation and harmonizes digestion (if insomnia is due to eating late at night or indigestion)
No matter what the underlying cause, insomnia is a common condition which acupuncture and Traditional Chinese Medicine can have a profound effect on treating.