You have had a long day, you know you are exhausted, and you can't wait to fall asleep, but then when your head hits the pillow - you are awake! Or you fall asleep and wake in the middle of the night, only to lie awake for hours, counting down how much more time you will be able to sleep before the alarm goes off. Insomnia, or persistent problems falling or staying asleep, can be an incredibly frustrating issue to deal with.
There are numerous causes of insomnia, including emotional or physical stress, pain or discomfort, illness, environmental factors such as light or noise, irregular sleep schedules, depression or anxiety, certain medications, or hormonal imbalances. Sleep problems are usually treated from a biomedical perspective with pharmaceutical medications that often leave patients feeling groggy or out of it the next morning, and many require a larger and larger dose over time.
From an acupuncture perspective, there are likewise numerous energetic systems that may be out of balance leading to insomnia. A blood energy weakness can make it hard for people to fall asleep, whereas waking up frequently during the night is related to a weakness in the yin foundation of the body (which often happens during menopause or post-childbirth or trauma.) Sleep disruption can also be caused by excessive heat in the body, which agitates the mind and doesn't allow it to fall asleep, or can be caused by a weakness in the qi energy that doesn't allow the body to fall into a deep enough state of sleep to be rejuvenated.
In acupuncture and Chinese Medicine, different times of day and night correspond with different energetic systems, as well. For instance, 1:00-3:00 am is a time associated with the Liver meridian. If someone is waking up routinely in this window of time, there is likely an imbalance in the Liver energetic system, which controls how the body processes stress and how energy physically circulates within our bodies. 3:00-5:00 am is associated with the Lungs - when someone is waking habitually at these hours, there is likely Lung involvement - the Lungs control respiration, sweating, breathing, how the body processes grief, and how we find our voice. The Lungs are also connected to the Large Intestine energetically, so sometimes digestive pathologies can cause the 3:00-5:00 wake-up, as well (or emotionally, if we are holding on to something too tightly, that is a Large Intestine pathology, as well.)
Acupuncture and Chinese Herbs can help to rebalance the body's energy systems for longer, more restful, more rejuvenating sleep.
Preliminary clinical research studies have shown that acupuncture may help treat insomnia through reducing sympathetic nervous system activity and increasing parasympathetic activity (reducing the "fight or flight" response), regulating the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis and cortisol production (which has been shown to mediate how stress affects insomnia), and increasing GABA neurotransmitter levels (which subdue physiological brain activity during sleep).
Counting sheep not working? Call today to start working towards better sleep!
For an old blog post that includes some to-at-home tips for promoting restful sleep, start here.