Natural, TCM-Approved Remedies For Insomnia
Needing extra infusions of coffee after tossing and turning yet again? Insomnia is one of the most common sleep disorders for adults. Studies have shown that 40% of people have experienced insomnia at some point while between 10%–15% of adults have consistent and highly disruptive amounts of insomnia. While being groggy and needing extra under-eye concealer is already unpleasant, sleeping less than seven hours a night can pose serious problems for your overall health and wellbeing.
Though sleeping medication may be a quick fix on occasion, it won’t help get rid of insomnia or improve health for good. In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), insomnia is treated holistically using a combination of herbal supplements, acupuncture, and lifestyle adjustments to create lasting habits to keep insomnia at bay.
What Causes Insomnia?
TCM practitioners have determined several root issues that trigger insomnia. Each diagnosis is caused by imbalances in the body, either of the meridian areas, energy, or blood. That may sound a bit confusing, but think about it this way – if you work long hours and are sustaining life off of stolen pizza slices scarfed down between conference calls, how good do you think you’ll feel? When we fail to nourish and heal our bodies amidst busy and energy-draining days, the stress drains you and depletes what’s known in TCM as your kidney yin. This can cause insomnia.
If you’ve let your long, stressful days catch up to you without relief, you might feel worn down, anxious, or depressed. The body’s response to this can involve symptoms like inflammation, indigestion, increased blood pressure or heart rate, headaches, and shifting patterns of blood circulation. TCM practitioners would likely say that you have too much ‘yang’, or heat, in your system or a lack of balance of overall “qi”, causing an energy deficiency. The combination of one or more of these things can actually be the cause of your insomnia.
There are several ways to differentiate these conditions based on examination of the tongue, monitoring of the pulse, and variance of non-sleep-related symptoms. When visiting a TCM practitioner, they’ll check each area to determine your specific diagnosis and the treatment plan best suited for your needs.
Herbal Solutions for Insomnia
Stress and overwhelming anxiety or depression may be the primary cause of your insomnia. If this is the case, studies have shown the natural herbal supplement “xiao yao wan” may lead to improvements with falling and staying asleep. This herbal mix is said to inspire users to feel relaxed (yes, please), one with nature (hiking here I come), and more able to “go with the flow” (it’s all good).
If you find your energy, also known as qi in TCM, is imbalanced, low, and causing you to feel tired yet unable to fall asleep, you’ll want to give “gui pi wan” a try. These supplements are an energy boost in a pill, but don’t come with the undesirable shakes you might get from six extra cups of coffee or energy drinks.
Are stomach issues and indigestion the culprit of your insomnia? “bao he wan” may be the herbal mix to ease your agitation. This herbal supplement helps to reduce feelings of blockage, bloating, and nausea. By returning your digestive system to a normal balance of harmony, your qi will resume a proper flow and mental peace can also be restored.
Acupuncture for Insomnia
Acupuncture has long been a celebrated TCM practice for improving sleep quality and treating insomnia. The idea of needles and quality sleep may not immediately seem compatible, but studies have shown that acupuncture can relieve stress and anxiety and balance out the physical pains of the body that might be interrupting your rest. When combined with herbal remedies and diet and lifestyle adjustments, acupuncture can add a nice boost to your overall wellness. Find a local TCM practitioner or acupuncturist to help you find a treatment specific for you..
If the middle of the night arrives and you’re still counting sheep, there are a few acupressure massages you can perform on yourself to help inspire sleep. Each massage is centered around a different pressure point including the anmian, shen men, and nei guan (details below).
The anmian point is located beneath the ear and at the base of the skull. It’s known as the “peaceful sleep” point for good reason! When giving yourself an acupressure massage on the anmian point, try gently rubbing circles around the anmian point for several minutes, or about 100 circles. This should help relax your nervous system and calm your body down. Be sure to maintain deep, consistent breathing during the massage!
If you’re suffering from stress, anxiety, or depression, the shen men point may be the best place to start for your acupressure massage. This point in the ear is commonly referred to as the “Gate of Heaven” because its been known to inspire angelic feelings of peace and calm. The shen men point is located on the ear, in the indentation beneath the outer rim and the inner ridge. It’s known to help calm the body and relieve tension, thus helping you to get some zzzs. If applying pressure to the shen men point at home, be sure to check out a diagram so that you’re in the right spot. Then use a q-tip or your littlest finger to apply pressure and massage to the point for several minutes while breathing in and out deeply.
If your insomnia is centered around feelings of nausea, stomach pains, motion sickness, or a headache, give the nei guan point a try. This acupressure point is located three finger-widths down from the base of the inner wrist in between the two tendons. When doing an at-home acupressure massage with the nei guan point, make sure your palm is facing up before finding the pressure point. Then massage gently for a few seconds at a time three to five times while taking deep, cleansing breaths. When combined with herbal remedies, this technique should help you remedy your stomach symptoms and aid in your ability to fall asleep.
Tips for Insomnia Relief
Looking for more lifestyle habits to help beat insomnia? In addition to herbal, acupuncture, and acupressure massage treatments, there are several lifestyle adjustments that may help you sleep better at night.
The time of day and type of exercise you participate in can have a strong influence on your quality of sleep and how long it takes to fall asleep. Since exercise gives you a boost of chemicals that actually can keep you awake, it’s probably a good idea to skip the 9 pm spin class.. Ideally, try exercising in the morning or midday. High-intensity workouts can be useful to help release stress that can trigger insomnia. However, if you’re a die-hard crossfitter, long distance runner, or other cardio-intensive exerciser, it’s important to practice activities that can heal and balance the body like yoga or tai chi. Consider alternating your workouts between the two types throughout the week for all the sleep benefits.
If you find your own thoughts are keeping you up at night, meditation is a good idea. Meditation is different for everyone, but one simple way to think about is that you want to be able to control your own thoughts and mental state, but that takes practice. An easy way to meditate is by focusing on the breath. Try to breathe in and out of the nose deeply, counting to four on the inhale and four on the exhale. As you regulate your breathing, focus your attention on the sound, and experience of the breath alone. By directing your focus to your breath, you’re choosing to direct it away from negative or stressful thoughts. As distracting thoughts appear, acknowledge them and then gently let them go. This process should help declutter the mind and relax the body for sleep.
Finally, keep a close eye on the types of foods you eat and how they may be affecting you. Certain foods can disrupt the body’s natural balance and cause discomfort that can cause insomnia or disruptive sleep. While there may be certain foods unique to each person that can initiate these symptoms, there are a few general rules according to TCM to follow. Avoiding any extremely spicy, sweet, or pungent foods along with anything processed or filled with complex sugars can help maintain balance in your stomach, kidneys and liver.