Acupuncture falls under the umbrella of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). TCM is one of the world’s oldest known medical systems, dating back several thousands of years. TCM is deeply rooted in the Chinese philosophy of Daoism, which includes the theory of yin & yang and the relationship between nature and human beings. Health is thought to be dependent on the flow of energy spelled “qi” but pronounced as “chee” along meridian pathways throughout the body.
A continuous flow of qi is said to keep yin and yang in balance and thus, the body in balance. When this energetic flow is blocked, illness, pain, and other symptoms such as insomnia may follow. By stimulating acupuncture points, the flow of qi is reestablished, initiating the body’s natural healing process.
We now know acupuncture points are actually microscopic neuro-vascular bundles that when stimulated regulate the nervous system. We know the nervous system is in control of everything in the body, so acupuncture has a multi-faceted effect on all systems of the body. (woah!)
So how does Acupuncture work for sleep?
Registered Acupuncturist Kristina Adams, from Vital Point Acupuncture Kamloops, takes us through a deeper look into how Acupuncture and chinese medicine can aid in insomnia.
"We often see the majority of sleep issues arise from stress, anxiety, menopause, or the cause is unknown." A lot of the time, each treatment is unique to each individual and the amount of treatments you will need vary depending how long the insomnia has been present for, and what we determine the underlying cause to be. For now, lets go through some of the common sleep imbalances and ways to address them through the lens of TCM.
Insomnia of “unknown” origin
This is something we see quite often in practice, and it can leave people feeling helpless and frustrated. The good news is, when there is nothing found in Western Medicine to be causing the problem, Traditional Chinese Medicine always has an answer. By looking at the interconnections between your mind, body, and what mechanisms may be at play with the diagnostic tools and procedures unique to TCM, we can come up with a proper diagnosis from which we develop your treatment plan (when I say diagnosis here I mean TCM diagnosis). It is always best to see a Registered Acupuncturist to guide you to what acupoints, supplements, and dietary changes you can make for your insomnia, but lets make use of some general acupoints and philosophies to determine where our imbalance may be arising from.
The TCM clock:
Qi moves throughout your organs in 2-hour intervals every day. When you sleep at night, the qi moves inwards to replenish your vital organs to restore energy to the body, and during the day it circulates freely to provide kinetic energy. If we are waking up during the night at specific times, or feeling tired during the day when we shouldn’t be, this can be a signal that there may be an imbalance of the flow of qi happening throughout the organ systems. For example, if we are waking up consistently every night between 1-3 a.m, we know that this is the time when qi is entering the Liver to enable cleansing of blood to occur, so we may have an imbalance of the Liver qi happening. Or, if we are feeling tired between 1-3 p.m, this could be an imbalance with the small intestine qi. Have a look at the TCM clock below to see what time qi flows throughout specific organs:
General acupressure points for insomnia
These are some points we can make use of when we are not sure of our cause of insomnia. They are very effective and should be massaged for 5-10 minutes before bed with firm pressure
- Yintang: at the midpoint of the eyebrows. Forcefully calms the mind.
- Ear Shenmen: in the triangular fossa of the ear. Assists the body to enter into the parasympathetic nervous system.
- Anmian: behind the mastoid process (bony landmark behind earlobe). #1 point for insomnia of all kinds.
Insomnia caused by anxiety & stress
The cause of anxiety can be acute or chronic, and can manifest itself in different people in different ways. People experiencing issues with sleep due to anxiety and stress will often have issues falling asleep, thinking in circles for hours about a particular subject. This is very depleting to your qi, blood, and digestive system as in TCM as the emotion associated with the stomach is overthinking and worry. Other symptoms experienced may include heart palpitations, poor memory, fatigue, IBS, tight neck and shoulders, irritability, and panic attacks.
Some useful tips and tricks to help with this type of insomnia:
1. Food: Bone broth and longan berries. Bone broth and longan berries are big blood builders in TCM, which is essential for deep sleep. If your blood is deficient, the mind cannot “rest” and so we get symptoms of insomnia. In western medicine, we can use bone broth to assist in healing the gut lining and reducing systemic inflammation in the GI tract, so if that over-thinking is causing IBS symptoms, it’s a great way to nourish your blood whilst healing the gut lining.
2. Herb: Valerian. This herb is an amazing nervine - it helps to calm the nervous system which in turn calms the mind and enables a less restless, peaceful sleep experience.
3. Acupressure: at Taichong and Shenmen (above) with firm pressure for 3-5 minutes.
Taichong can be used specifically for instances of chronic waking at 1-3 a.m. It is also useful for insomnia caused by stress related to taking too much on in life/bearing all responsibility on your shoulders. Shenmen is very useful for those suffering from anxiety causing insomnia - it calms the mind, lets the spirit rest, calms panic attacks and heart palpitations.
Insomnia caused by hormonal imbalances
This type of insomnia will manifest as issues falling asleep and waking up several times through the night with a feeling of heat or full night sweats. The sleep is restless with several dreams. Other symptoms may include changes in weight, energy decease, dry mouth, skin, and hair as well as irregular periods.
Some useful tips and tricks to help with this type of insomnia:
1. Food: Flax seeds. 1 tbsp of flax mixed in a cup of water before bed may have photo-estrogenic effects acting to settle the effects of declining estrogen levels.
2. Herb: Black Cohosh. Like flax seeds, black cohosh is well known for its phytoestrogens and the effects it has on controlling the severity of hot flashes experienced by women going through menopause.
3. Acupressure: at Fuliu (above) with firm pressure massage before bed for 5 minutes. This acupoint is well known and used for its effects on decreasing the severity of hot flashes.
We hope some of these tips and tricks from Traditional Chinese Medicine can be useful for you! Sleep is such an important pillar in our total picture of health and well-being. If you or someone you know is struggling with sleep issues, consider booking an acupuncture appointment in Kamloops or Sun Peaks Resort.