In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), insomnia is seen as the result of a disturbance to one's shen. Shen can be translated as one's spirit or mind. It implies our consciousness, mental functions, mental health, vitality and our overall presence.
Your shen is light and subtle which means it needs to be anchored by yin and blood or it can, in a sense, "float away". The night is the time when your mental (yang) energy of the day is supposed to be enveloped by your yin energy to calm the mind while your sleep. So, like almost all patterns in Chinese medicine, insomnia is a disturbance of the interplay between yin and yang energy.
There are four main types of insomnia in TCM:
- “Difficult to sleep”, meaning inability to fall asleep. This pattern usually involves the liver and it becoming stagnant from stress and suppressed emotions. Eventually the liver becomes so stagnant that heat forms and eventually rises to the mind, disturbing your spirit and making you restless. This pattern can be accompanied by red or burning eyes, frequent headaches and the tendency to get irritable easily and quickly.
- “Early awake”, indicates those who may fall asleep but then awake later. Those with this pattern tend to be nervous and have anxiety and tend to wake in order to solve their problems. This pattern involves the kidney/heart relationship and may be accompanied by cold feet and flushed cheeks.
- “Light sleep”, those unable to obtain deep sleep or may be disturbed by dreams or nightmares. This patterns tends to be more chronic and seen most commonly in elderly patients or those recovering from a surgery or long-term illness. It may be accompanied by palpitations, anxiety or depression. This pattern involves a lack of blood and a deficiency in the spleen energy.
- “Awake all night”, patients who lay awake all night long. This pattern is seen in people who are frightened easily, worry excessively and may be rather pessimistic by nature. Pattern is typically accompanied by fatigue and low spirits.
All of the above patterns respond very well to acupuncture and herbal medicine. Eating patterns as well as stress management are typically vital when addressing these issues as well. Patients can usually see a change in their sleep within 3 -5 acupuncture treatments.