Poor sleep - Acupuncture can help

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Millwoods Acupuncture Center
102, 2603 Hewes Way
Edmonton AB,   Canada

Phone: (780) 466-8683



Have a nice Sleep


Sleep –   How Traditional Chinese Medicine  understands it

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 problem.

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 problem.

(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.

(4) Qi  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 fall sleep.

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 until noon.

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 symptom.

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!   -   Zzzzzzzz!!!