How Can Chinese Medicine Help Your Insomnia?

SleepDo you have trouble getting to sleep at night? Is your mind racing or do you just lay there at night? Are you waking up every night and having trouble getting back to sleep? These are common problems for a lot of people in our busy and high stress lives and they are also things that I hear commonly from patients in my clinic. A lot of people opt for over the counter or prescription sleep aids, and often while they do get to sleep, they can wake groggy and tired the next morning. Some insomnia medications can also have lots of adverse side effects like headaches, dry mouth, fatigue and dizziness. Acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine have some great solutions for people suffering from insomnia and poor sleep and most people see lasting relief, better sleep, and more energy within a few treatments all with no side effects.

Acupuncture helps with insomnia in several ways. From a biomedical perspective, acupuncture helps induce a parasympathetic nervous system response. Your parasympathetic nervous system is the “rest and digest” part of the nervous system, on the opposite side of the sympathetic “fight or flight” part that we can get locked into during stressful time or long working days. While your body is in a parasympathetic state, it can slow down, begin to repair itself, replenish needed hormones and neurotransmitters, build new cells & dispose of old ones, and generally heal itself. From a Chinese medicine perspective, insomnia is a symptom of a pattern of imbalance in your body. There can be several reasons why insomnia occurs, and each type can have different types or manifestations of insomnia symptoms. Once your Chinese medicine practitioner has determined the correct pattern, acupuncture and herbs are used to counteract the imbalance, once the body is back in balance, the symptoms should be eliminated. Common reasons for insomnia are stress and depression, long working hours, or chronic overuse of the mind which is common in students. Combining herbs and acupuncture is the most effective treatment compared to using them separately.

A recent study in The Journal of Acupuncture and Tuina Science, researchers were able to demonstrate that acupuncture and herbs were more effective than a prescription sleep aid in treating insomnia, citing higher overall effective rates (96.8% for acupuncture and herbs versus 74.2%). The trial had two  groups, one received the prescription drug Estazolam, a benzodiazepine and the other utilized a set of standardized acupuncture points for each patient and a standardized Chinese herbal medicine formula traditionally used for insomnia. Breaking down the results showed a total recovery (normal sleep with 6 hours minimum) rate of 54.8% for the acupuncture and herbs versus 32.3% for Estazolam, a marked recovery (an additional 3 hours of sleep time) rate of 35.5% for acupuncture and herbs versus 22.5% for Estazolam, and most tellingly was a failure rate (no improvement or worsening or condition) of 3.2% for acupuncture and herbs versus 25.8% for Estazolam. While this is only one study with one drug, the results bring to light the effectiveness of acupuncture and herbs for treating insomnia.

To read a summary of the findings, click here.

If you would like to talk with me about insomnia, Chinese medicine, or anything else that may be going on, please do not hesitate to call or email me, I would love to speak with you and see how I can help!

References: Kou, Ji-you, Yan Wei, Xin Tong, and Long Yang. “Effect of combined acupuncture and Shen Zao An Shen Tang on sleep quality of insomnia patients due to deficiency of the heart and spleen.” Journal of Acupuncture and Tuina Science 12, no. 2 (2014): 96-100.


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Christopher Shiflett L.Ac  M.S. TCM, Dipl. O.M. (NCCAOM)

Christopher Shiflett L.Ac M.S. TCM, Dipl. O.M. (NCCAOM)

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