There are many factors which can disturb our sleep, so the first treatment step for the Oriental practitioner is to distinguish whether the problem is being caused by outside factors, such as noise, abnormal temperature, consumption of stimulants or food before bedtime, emotional disturbances or an irregular work pattern, or from more long term chronic internal causes. In the former case, once these temporary disturbances are eliminated, the insomnia will usually disappear. When it doesn't, we begin looking at internal causes.
According to Oriental medical theory, the mental health of an individual is conditioned by its 'Shen', or spirit. The Shen is related to our mental awareness; it is has a close relationship with the heart, but other organs could also be involved. The liver, for example, is very sensitive to stress which will affect its optimum function of storing and circulating the blood throughout the body. Since the liver meridian pathways ascend to the top of the head, symptoms in that area will soon manifest in several different forms. For example, the person involved might become irritable; he, or she, could be complaining of headaches or blood shot eyes, and perhaps a constant bitter taste in the mouth. In addition to acupuncture, Chinese herbs such as dried gardenia flowers and licorice will be prescribed to calm the liver. Powdered oyster shells could also be added to the formula due to their strong sedative action on the nervous system.
If the patient is also complaining of ringing in the ears, aching lower back, palpitations, poor memory and dizziness, our attention will turn to the kidneys (water element), which are in charge of regulating the balance of Yin (cold), and Yang (hot) energy in the body. When these two opposite forces are in disharmony, the Yin energy of the kidneys often becomes too weak to stop the Yang energy of the heart (fire element) from getting out of control. In this case, the disturbance in the heart is manifested by the evidence of palpitations and dizziness, while the weakness of the kidneys is reflected in the lower back pain, poor memory and ringing in the ears. Once again, a different acupuncture and herbal strategy will be followed to supplement the kidney energy, harmonise the heart, and eliminate the build up of heat in the system.
Our third insomniac could have a pale complexion. She might be complaining of a constant feeling of tiredness, which makes performing simple daily tasks a constant struggle. She will probably be a chronic light sleeper, often complaining of frequent dreaming, and her appetite will be poor. In that case, we will be looking at the spleen which is responsible for making the blood (pale complexion= poor circulation of blood), and regulating the digestion with the stomach (poor appetite) Once again, a different acupuncture and herbal strategy will be followed to harmonise the spleen and the heart disturbances, and settle the mind.
Even when the problems are chronic, often simple changes to the daily routine can make significant improvements in our quality of sleep. Since having a full stomach is often enough to keep us awake, we should try to avoid having a heavy meal at least two hours before bedtime. Having a hot bath or shower before going to be, also helps raise our body temperature which has a sedative effect on the brain.
The most important step is probably to allow plenty of time for the nervous system to unwind and relax before going to bed. Turning off appliances like radios, televisions and computers well in advance before bedtime gives the brain time to gradually disengage from any mental source of stimulation. A very good tip is to spend the last five minutes before going to bed reviewing the events of the day, from the moment you woke up that morning to the present. Doing this review every night, and writing down anything that has to be remembered for the next day, will enable the mind to enter into sleep more freely. Your subconscious will appreciate not being given the nightly task of resolving your life's problems any more, and the quality of your sleep will soon improve.
Most of us will never go back to the ancient times when our lives were ruled by the natural cycle of the sun. Even if we have to keep living by the clock, these simple steps can help us control these outside interferences which are poisoning our brain, and bring us back in harmony with our mind, body, and spirit. In my experience, insomnia doesn't survive for long when these vital energies are working together.
Olivier Lejus MHSc.(TCM), BHSc.(Acup.) is an accredited acupuncturist practising in Sydney
Olivier Lejus BHSc.MHSc. is a registered acupuncturist and Chinese herbalist practising in Sydney. A former casual university lecturer and tutor in Oriental medicine with over 15 years experience in clinical practice, Olivier specialises in Japanese- style acupuncture for the treatment of male and female infertility, migraine, pain, and insomnia.www.olejusacupuncture.com