Insomnia is difficulty getting to sleep or staying asleep for long enough to feel refreshed the next morning. People with insomnia can feel dissatisfied with their sleep and usually experience one or more of the following symptoms: fatigue, low energy, difficulty concentrating, mood disturbances, and decreased performance in work or at school. It is characterised by delays in falling asleep, waking during the night (even though you may eventually go back to sleep), or waking very early in the morning before the sleep cycle is completed. Quite often insomnia is more a perception of sleeplessness than true disturbed sleep. This may be due to irregular sleep patterns or sleep that is so fitful that you wake up feeling out of sorts and tired.

What causes insomnia? We all experience some difficulty sleeping occasionally. With age, sleep patterns also change with many older people finding they need to sleep for fewer hours.

TCM believes that insomnia is caused or related to one of the following.

  1. Stress and depression resulting in Liver Qi stagnation. Long term Liver Qi stagnation can turn to fire. The fire rises to disturb the Heart and spirit and the person cannot relax and sleep.
  2. A diet of junk food will affect the stomach and the digestive system. In the earliest TCM book Huang Di Nei Jing, it is said ‘If the stomach is not settled then a person can not sleep peacefully’.
  3. A weak constitution or long-term chronic illness both resulting in a deficiency of Kidney Yin. The water of the Kidney cannot rise up to nourish the Heart Fire. The heart Fire increases to disturb the spirit and affect the sleep.
  4. Over thinking or over work impairs the Heart and Spleen; dysfunction of the Heart then causes a Blood deficiency. The Blood cannot nourish the brain and there can be Spleen deficiency, and what is known as deficiency of the Heart Blood. Food becomes hard to digest and a lack of nutrients results, in turn failing to nourish the heart. Women sometimes experience this condition after labour and elderly people can be prone to it. Insomnia often only lasts a few days or weeks. Long-term insomnia can go on indefinitely unless the cause can be identified and treated.

How can insomnia be treated? Sleeping pills are a temporary solution only and can be addictive or habit forming. TCM insomnia treatments include a number of Chinese herbal remedies to treat insomnia.

Acupuncture is often used in the treatment of insomnia. Common acupoints are Nei Guan, Shen Men and Bai Hui. A combination of acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine can achieve even better results.

Source: Association of Traditional Chinese Medicine (ATCM) UK