Have a nice Sleep
How Traditional Chinese Medicine
To have a good night’s sleep is a dream for
everyone Even if we’ve had no beer, no chocolate, no driving or
traveling, we still cannot get a good night’s sleep!
In the Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM),
the sleep is controlled by the Heart system, based on the
Five-element theory. Sleep changes the body Yang Qi and turns it
into the storage stage (its own sleeping stage) at night.
Anything that affects the function of the Heart, also affects
sleep. Also, anything that affects the body Yang Qi turnover
from daytime to night time, can affect sleep. Heart is the
“King” in the body. It accepts signals from every part of the
body, then sends signals to the appropriate organs to solve the
problem. Therefore, anything wrong in the body could “bother”
the Heart. Lack of sleep prevents the Heart from doing its job.
What kind of poor sleep do you have?
The causes for poor sleep are many, as well
as a wide variety of clinic manifestations of poor sleep. Check
what kind of poor sleep you may have:
(1) Stomach trouble due to overeating
You may have overeaten at supper or at an
evening party. Your stomach bothers you and you cannot sleep.
This can be due either to a temporary event, such as overeating
at a party, or it might be long term trouble, such as a weak
stomach but you continue eating large suppers.
For short term sleeping trouble, eating
less at night could be the solution, or if the stomach continues
to be a concern and you feel bloated, nausea or diarrhea, we
usually use the herbal formula of Ping Wei San to solve the
If it is due to long term stomach trouble,
we should solve the stomach problems, not simply take sleeping
pills. If you cannot find a doctor to help you, simply drink a
cup of fresh ginger water to help digestion. The herbal formulas
prescribed are dependent upon the diagnosis of the stomach
(2) Stomach trouble due to stagnation of
Yang Qi in the stomach area (middle of the body)
Often, people feel bloated in the upper
stomach area even if they do not eat. They may also feel
gurgling, nausea, even vomit but the pain is not the major
problem. Such people usually are very sensitive to emotional
stimulation, such as other people’s attitudes, the stress in
daily life, to physical environmental changes, such as room
temperature, noise, or light. They usually tend to have throat
congestion and feel it needs constant clearing. They also feel
nausea when they see blood, sad TV programs, crying etc.
For this problem, the herbal formula
recommended is the Banxia Xie Xin Tang. This formula works to
remove the block (in TCM, such block can be fire, wetness,
phlegm, stagnated blood, etc.) that blocks the Yang Qi movement
from the upper part of the body to the lower part of the body,
connecting the Yin and the Yang Qi in the body.
(3) Liver Qi stagnation
Liver system is the organ system in the
body that manages emotion. Its function is easily damaged by
emotional stress. Anger is the most important emotional stress
that damages the Liver system; excessive crying damages the Lung
system; excessive laughter damages the Heart; excessive feelings
of loss damages the Spleen; excessive fear damages the Kidney.
No feeling should be in excess - all can cause poor sleep.
This type of poor sleep is easy seen in
women. Angry or unhappy feelings makes women unable to fall
asleep or to easily awake. They also feel bloated in the stomach
area, located more in the side of the stomach.
They may feel a throat obstruction which
needs clearing. They can feel feverish, cold or the hot-cold
feeling. They have less desire to eat.
Doctors can find that their pulse feels
like a violin string, thin and tight. When touched on the
stomach area, the muscle is tender, they are sensitive and do
not like to be touched. This type of poor sleep can be seen in
women with menopause syndrome.
The herbal formula for this group of poor sleep is the
Xiao Chaihu Tang.
Without proper treatment, the stagnated Qi
could turn into Fire, causing pain or dryness in the eyes (eye
inflammation), burning sensation in the urine tract and urgency
to urinate (urinary
inflammation, as you may call it). This is easy to understand:
it is just as the hay pile turns to fire if it is kept for a
long time without an exit hole to release the fire from the
inside. Our emotions also need to exit to keep us healthy.
Deficiency in the Heart and Spleen
This type of poor insomnia is called Qi-Xue
double deficiency (Xue means blood).
When people are thinking or planning some
project (businessmen, artists, politicians, students), they may
feel no desire to sleep or have many dreams at night. When
people are worrying about something, they find it difficult to
Thinking and planning is the work of the
Heart. Too much thinking damages the function of the Heart,
making it continue to work without rest. When the Heart is
indulged into its own work, it is less helpful to the Spleen
system (In TCM, the Heart is the “parent” of the Spleen system).
One of the functions for the Spleen system is digestion. When
the Spleen system becomes weak, there is less nutrition given to
the Heart to continue its heavy work, the efficiency of the
Heart in its “thinking” job becomes reduced too.
Another common reason for this type of poor
sleep is when one has had chronic disease for a long time, or
when one has long term bleeding (for women)
sweat, or diarrhea.
People feel tired, have less physical and
emotional ability to work, have reduced memory, analyzing, and
decision making ability. They may have reduced appetite, feel
bloated in stomach or have chronic diarrhea. They may look pale
in face and lips, have a weak pulse or sweat easily. Herbal
formula needed is Gui Pi wan or Tian Wang Bu Xin Dan.
People may also feel hot but the body
temperature is actually normal. They may also have some trouble
such as a prolapsed uterus, stomach, kidney and so on.
In this case, the herbal formula Bu Zhong Yi Qi Tang
should be used.
(5) Heart Fire (absolute Fire)
When there is acute inflammation in the
body, no matter where it is, we may have difficulty falling
asleep because of pain and/or fever. This situation in TCM is
called Heart Fire. The body temperature usually is increased.
One also feels dry in the mouth and is very thirsty. There may
be constipation and the urine is dark yellow in colour. The face
might be red and the air in their mouth when exhaled, feels hot.
They cannot fall asleep, the mind is very clear as in the day
time, but does not think or plan anything.
This kind of poor sleep is relatively
easier to solve. Reduce the fire is the solution. The herb
formula to be used is the one that contains Huangliang, Huangqin,
or Dahuang, such as Huangliang Shang Qin Wan, or San Huang Pian.
They work to reduce the Heart Fire, calm the Heart.
Another similar situation is when the Fire
is restricted mostly in their chest. At night, they feel vexed,
perturbed or annoyed and constantly toss and turn in bed. We
then will try the Zhizi Zhi Thang.
(6) Heart Fire (relative Fire)
In clinic, there is also another kind of
Fire. The Fire is not caused by the attack of outside factors,
but by the floating of our primary life - Fire out of the Kidney
system. The body temperature can also be high or normal with no
clear indication of any inflammation in the body. People
belonging to this group, have had long term disease and stress
that damages their Yang Qi in the body. To maintain their body
function, the body has to use their primary life Fire.
People in this group could also have
trouble falling asleep and have shallow sleep (very easy to wake
up). Also, the mouth feels dry and they may want little to drink
or do not want very cold water. They could feel a burning
sensation here and there in the body. They could fee hot in
hands and feet, especially late at night and in the morning
The Herbal formula of the Huanglian A Jiao
Tang is commonly used for this problem.
(7) Yang Qi deficiency
This group of people usually sleep poorly
at night and they also feel drowsy during the day. They seem to
wish for more sleep but never fall into deep sleep. Their day
seems not as day and night is not as the night. They have less
desire for life’s activity, they do not want to talk much or to
take on new challenges. Their hands and feet are cold,
especially at night. The face is pale and the pulse feels weak,
deep, thin or even hard to the touch. This is a critical
situation in TCM even if people still feel ok in other parts of
the body and have no indication of any other illness in the
body. Urgent treatment is needed. The herbal formula should be
considered is the Si Ni Tang.
This group of people can further develop
into the above Heart Fire (relative Fire) group.
(8) Blood stagnation
If the reasons for poor sleep are still
hard to find, or if the treatment is not satisfactory,
there could be a special situation in the body that may
also contribute to poor sleep: e.g. the Blood stagnation
syndrome. This should be considered if one has had surgery or
coronary heart disease, or has suffered trauma (such as car
accident, or other physical abuse to the body). It should also
considered if there are purple spots on the tongue or on the
body surface, varicose veins on skin, or if
one feels hot at night with dry skin.
It should be pointed out that the above
groups are not the only groups experiencing poor sleep. There
could be other reasons for poor sleep. In TCM, it is not
possible that one drug or one formula solves all the reasons for
insomnia. Once the TCM therapy works, you do not need to take it
again for months or years. It is a cure, not just reducing the
In our clinic, herbal therapy is the most
commonly recommended way to solve poor sleep.
However, in combination with acupuncture (and other
means) healing is accelerated..
If the reason for poor sleeping involves emotional
stress, one should also think about correcting the life stress.
Have a nice sleep!