Chinese Medicine and Why You Don't Sleep

Over the years at Acupuncture in the Park, we’ve found that it’s the rare person who sleeps really well; that person who drifts off easily, stays asleep all night long, and wakes refreshed in the morning ready to take on the day. Why is that?

As kids, sleep seemed pretty simple–you were tired at night, went to bed, and the next thing you knew it was morning. However, as you get older, getting an uninterrupted night of sleep isn’t always a given. Unfortunately, in Western medicine, insomnia tends to be treated in a similar way for every sufferer, which usually means a prescription sleep aid.

Chinese medicine for sleeplessnessIn Chinese medicine, however, sleeplessness is treated very individually, and can have a variety of causes. Among them:

-Too much internal heat. If you tend to run warm during the daytime, are thirsty for cool drinks, have lots of inflammation, and/or feel impatient and irritable, your internal engine may be running warm. At night, this heat can cause you to feel hot and sleep restlessly.

-Poor digestion. Eating too late in the evening, overeating, or eating spicy, rich, or greasy foods may keep your digestion running far into the night. In Chinese medicine, this is called food stagnation, and may present as heartburn or lots of stomach rumbling and gurgling at night, making it hard for you to sleep.

-Stress and strong emotions. It’s not a revelation to anyone that stress can interrupt your sleep. Generally, this kind of insomnia presents as an inability to get to sleep when you first go to bed and a racing mind.

-Hormones. Two of the most common complaints from women going through menopause are interrupted sleep and night sweats. In Chinese medicine, this kind of sleeplessness is caused by something called a depletion of Yin, a nourishing and cooling substance in your body. Estrogen is considered to be very Yin in nature, and when levels drop in menopause, it causes some women to wake repeatedly feeling hot and drenched in sweat.

-Depletion. It is possible to be just too wiped out to sleep. This happens most frequently to people who are chronically exhausted, have had a recent surgery or blood loss, or who suffer from adrenal fatigue or a chronic illness. When your insomnia is caused by a true depletion, you may be able to fall asleep, but wake in the early hours and either struggle to get back to sleep, or drift in and out for the rest of the night. This kind of insomnia can also affect people who are just plain tired out.

In Chinese medicine, the cause of your insomnia is an important factor in treating it effectively. There is no one blanket solution; only the right treatment for you. Treatment of insomnia with Chinese medicine is specific to your underlying cause, and would likely incorporate acupuncture treatments with Chinese herbs, some lifestyle tweaks, and dietary therapy.

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