According to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine’s ICSD-3 manual, insomnia is defined as “persistent difficulty with sleep initiation, duration, consolidation or quality,” and the CDC stated that 1 in 3 adults don’t get enough sleep. As anyone who’s ever had a sleepless night can tell you, lack of sleep can affect our mood, concentration and health. Chronic insomnia can result in even more negative consequences.
Chinese Medicine offers some insight to the varying causes of sleeplessness. Unlike sleep medications which simply mask the root of the insomnia and have potentially life threatening side effects, acupuncture treats the underlying cause. Chinese Medicine uses a system of points and meridians to balance our spirit, energy and substance. Chronic insomnia is usually a sign of the heart and the liver being out of balance. Dream disturbed sleep, on the other hand, can be a sign of an imbalance of the gallbladder meridian. Trouble falling asleep, waking up frequently throughout the night, waking up early and not being able to fall back to sleep, overthinking or having racing thoughts before bed, and Irritability or depression that affect sleep, all point Chinese Medicine doctors to different energetic imbalances and diagnoses. And with that, a personalized treatment plan can be devised.
Scientific analysis of acupuncture has shown that acupuncture is significantly better at improving sleep when compared with no treatment, sham acupuncture, or medications. The combination of acupuncture and other treatment modalities appeared more effective than those other treatments alone.
Simple dietary and lifestyle changes can also help curb insomnia:
- Avoiding alcohol and caffeine and spicy foods can lead to better sleep. Chinese Medicine states that these foods increase the heat in your body and that leads to restlessness and agitation instead of a calm and cool night sleep. Western medicine shows that spicy foods can raise your core temperature and make it harder for the body to cool itself and make the transition into deep sleep.
- Drink a cup of nettle tea 1-2 hours before bed if you toss and turn and have trouble staying asleep. Nettle tea has been used in Western herbalism for centuries to improve sleep, build blood- as it is rich in iron, and lower blood sugar.
- Turn off your phones and electronics an hour before bed, and limit blue light (turn your phones onto night mode) after dark. This will keep blue light from affecting your natural melatonin and your sleep cycle.
- Meditate before bed. Counting sheep worked for you as a child, and it will still work for you now. Anything from sitting quietly while focusing on deep breathing, to lying in your bed counting sheep, to listening to a meditation app while relaxing on a yoga mat will help you sleep. Meditation has been shown to quiet the sympathetic nervous system and improve the quality of sleep.
Acupuncture, when combined with these diet and lifestyle changes, can improve sleep without resorting to sleeping pills and other sleep aids.
American Academy of Sleep Medicine. (2014). The International Classification of Sleep Disorders – Third Edition (ICSD-3). Darien, IL.
Cao, H., Pan, X., Li, H., & Liu, J. (2009). Acupuncture for treatment of insomnia: a systematic review of randomized controlled trials. Journal of alternative and complementary medicine (New York, N.Y.), 15(11), 1171–1186. https://doi.org/10.1089/acm.2009.0041
Black, D. S., O’Reilly, G. A., Olmstead, R., Breen, E. C., & Irwin, M. R. (2015). Mindfulness meditation and improvement in sleep quality and daytime impairment among older adults with sleep disturbances: a randomized clinical trial. JAMA internal medicine, 175(4), 494–501. https://doi.org/10.1001/jamainternmed.2014.8081