by Josh Zimmer, LAc/DOM
Humans need sufficient, quality sleep to live at or near peak performance. Yet according to the National Institutes of Health, an estimated tens of millions of Americans – 30% of the population – suffer at least one major form of insomnia. Millions experience the daily pitfalls of poor sleep.
While people often choose – or are prescribed – sleep medication as a cure, there’s an effective option in the natural healing qualities of Acupuncture. One obvious benefit of Acupuncture is that it avoids the numerous side effects of insomnia pills, like sluggishness and foggy brain. The use of acupuncture, along with other Traditional Chinese Medicine modalities, dovetails with the growing desire to address health issues as naturally as possible.
Insomnia falls into three categories, of which sufferers can experience more than one: difficulty falling asleep, difficulty getting back to sleep and difficulty staying asleep. Problems associated with the condition include sleepiness, restlessness, anxiety, irritability and difficulty concentrating. This can easily interfere with our relationships and ability to work. Insomnia is also a symptom or contributing factor of various major health issues, such as heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke and obesity.
Unfortunately, Insomniacs are their own worst victims, willingly ignoring the advice of sleep experts, who say people should go to bed at fixed times, do so at a reasonable hour, turn off electronic devices and hour or two before shutting off the lights and not eat for several hours prior.
The Acupuncture solution for Insomnia is a holistic one, combining all aspects of a person to break the insomnia logjam. As mind-body-spirit medicine, it looks closely at not just one’s physical sleep patterns, but his/her emotional state(s) of mind. As with other conditions in Traditional Chinese Medicine, Insomnia is linked with various internal organs which, in the ancient spirit, exhibit their own personalities.
For example, the Liver, which stores blood and regulates the flow of Qi energy throughout the body, is the source of planning, stress, anger, depression and letting go. It is represented by the Wood element, is most active during the spring, dislikes wind but likes the sour flavor, making it friendly to lemon and apple cider vinegar. Think about it: trying to complete all our plans on a daily basis could drive most people to Stress, Anger or Depression, which is why the Liver is a major organ to address in Insomnia.
The Kidneys, the Water element, embody our constitutional and reproductive energy. They regulate the bones and the nervous system, their primary emotion is The Will, Winter is their season and they love of salt (not too much). When Kidney Qi is weak, the result can be weakness and Depression.
Within this cycle of circular cause-and-effect, emotions easily drain their respective organs. On the flip side, physical issues can exacerbate the emotional side. For insomniacs, it all affects their sleep.
Any Insomnia plan in Traditional Chinese Medicine also takes into account the Heart because, as the seat of the Soul, it craves calm. Like us, the Heart needs a comfortable resting place at night, the way a bird needs a comfy nest to lay down in. This is a challenge, since the Heart’s element is Fire!
Deciphering these interconnections is where Acupuncture comes in. There’s a big list of points that can be used to rebalance the mind-body-spirit nexus and steadily overcome Insomnia. Insomnia is viewed within the context of energy excess and deficiency, as well as the organs’ relationships to the Circadian Clock.
This biorhythmic cycle associates various human activities with 12 two-hour blocks throughout the day. Naturally, where sleep is concerned, the focus is on the hours of 11 p.m. to 7 a.m.
When people have trouble falling asleep, the issue usually is a Qi or Blood Deficiency. Qi deficiency symptoms include fatigue, low energy, subdued voice and, possibly, spontaneous sweating. Blood deficiency refers to the vitality of this liquid force coursing through our bodies. Symptoms include dry skin, hair and eyes, foggy thinking, poor memory, frequent dreaming, tight joints and palpitations. Causes of Qi and Blood deficiencies, besides emotions, are poor diet, lack of exercise, disease, injury and a weak constitution.
The Liver (Anger, Stress and Depression) and Heart (Anger, Sadness, Restlessness and Anxiety) are particularly prone to deficiencies.
Another type of deficiency develops from imbalances between organs that leave the Yin energies weak. The result is a type of heat disturbance that occurs when there isn’t enough cooling Yin energy to balance the warmer, more tumultuous Yang Qi. We call it Yin Deficiency.
The Liver and Kidneys, which provide the Water element to cool Heart Fire, are especially prone to this. People with Yin Deficiency fall asleep easily but wake up during the night and have trouble falling back to sleep. A very common time period to wake up is 1-3 a.m., which just happens to be the Liver’s Circadian slot. We’re kept up by Stress and overactive minds, so in these cases acupuncture treatments would include points to soothe the Liver (and boost the Kidneys, which provide nourishment for Liver Blood).
Other types of sleep disturbances relate to Excess, often Heat or “Fire”, which can well up organically when energies stagnate and generate their own temperatures force. Heat, in the form of emotions or physical symptoms, rise up, entering the mind and preventing calm. The Heart and Liver easily fall into excess.
Another form of excess stagnation originates in The Stomach, basically from eating too much, especially late at night. The digestive system is busy metabolizing when it ought to be taking a long nap.
Finally, an overlooked player in Insomnia is the Lung. Like the Heart, the Lungs are a repository of major emotions, namely sadness and grief, which both tend to be long-term factors. They also lead to overthinking. And since the Lungs share chest space with the Heart, they may not parallel Heart emotions but they are easily aroused by them. Where do the Lungs fall on the Circadian Clock? 3-5 a.m., a time of night that many Insomniacs are all too familiar with.
Josh Zimmer, Ap/DOM is a Florida-licensed acupuncturist providing a wide range of holistic services to promote natural healing. Sessions often combine acupuncture with Cupping, warming moxibustion, electro-stimulation, Tuina acupressure massage, herbal prescriptions and gentle Gua Sha.
Please contact at Four Pillars 941-373-3955 for a personal Acupuncture consultation and holistic solutions for Insomnia. www.fourpillarsflorida.com