A sleepless night is something we have all experienced. Often, they occur when our routine is thrown out of whack. Perhaps we are sleeping somewhere unfamiliar or we have eaten a particularly rich meal or overindulged too much. Most commonly the sleepless nights are a result of the mind racing from over-excitement or stress.
Even these one-off occasional restless evenings can be hard to bear so for those who experience chronic bouts of insomnia its understandable to find that this broken or minimal sleep can have quite a profound effect on their day to day lives.
The Sleep Foundation’s physician’s definition of Insomnia is described as “the difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep, even when a person has the chance to do so. 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”.
Insomnia is also classified by its duration. Acute Insomnia is often circumstantial as I mentioned above. Usually connected to times of broken patterns or heightened stress and emotion such as prior to an exam or around an unpleasant life event such as death or divorce. It may be considered ‘Transient’ meaning it lasts only a few days or ‘Short Term’ meaning it lasts only a few weeks. Due to its nature it is often short lasting and resolves of its own accord once the triggering event has passed. Chronic Insomnia however is considered disrupted sleep that occurs three or more nights a week and is sustained over a period of several months. This can be the result of any number of external or internal factors and generally treatment is required to address the imbalance and resolve the issue.
In the 2016 Australian Sleep Health Survey from the Sleep Health Foundation found that sleep problems are extremely common. The effect of inadequate sleep (of either duration or quality) and its daytime consequences impacting 33-45% of Australian adults. It was also sighted the effect of our 24/7 existence to be ‘profound’ with 26% of adults surveyed using the internet most or every night of the week just before bed and having frequent sleep difficulties or daytime impairments. Our busy lives were reflected in 16% of all working adults do work just before bed and also have frequent sleep difficulties or daytime sleep-related symptoms. 23% of adults reported their typical weekday routine of work or home duties does not allow them to get enough sleep.
It doesn’t matter if you are looking at your health from a Western medicine or Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) point of view, sleep is viewed as a critical piece of the puzzle. From a TCM perspective sleep is part of our natural rhythm and Yin Yang cycle. The night is Yin. It is a time of restoration where the body becomes quiet, we slow down, this is a time of replenish and repair. Yin leads itself to activities such as sleep and digestion. Day time is our Yang time. This is when we should be at our most energetic and active. Yang is the time to socialise, work, play and eat. When we see a pattern of sleep disturbance or insomnia this suggests an imbalance of our Yin and Yang cycle. This internal disharmony causing an imbalance of the Yin Yang cycle disrupts our Shen. Our Shen is our spirit, mind and intellect. When the Shen / Spirit becomes restless is difficult to settle to sleep.
It is important in consult to establish the patterns associated with lack of sleep. We will discuss, lifestyle, emotional health and other physical symptoms that may be being experienced. These along with other TCM diagnostic tools will assist us in navigating our way to the root cause of the internal imbalance. Some of the common patterns I see associated with insomnia are:
Spleen Qi Deficiency – A patient with a pattern of Spleen Qi Deficiency may report broken sleep patterns from nocturnal waking and overthinking. Our Spleen is responsible for the intake, processing and distribution of nutrients from food therefore Spleen Qi Deficiency is often paired with additional digestive issues such as loss of appetite, abdominal fullness, loose bowel movements, breathlessness and a pale-yellow complexion.
Liver Qi Stagnation – The Liver is responsible for the smooth flow of Qi throughout our body. Common indications of a Liver Qi disturbance are anger, frustration and irritability. This imbalance can also present as difficulty falling asleep and reoccurring waking around 3am which according to the Chinese Medicine body clock is the time of the Liver.
Heart / Shen Disturbance – In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) the Heart is recognised not only as a physical organ but also as an emotional centre of our body. The Heart is intimately involved in mental and emotional processes. The Heart houses the Shen / Spirit and symptoms of Shen imbalance may include heart palpitations, shortness of breath, mental restlessness, forgetfulness, mental fog, anxiety and depression. Shen disturbance is characterised by difficulty in falling asleep and staying asleep. Heart Heat may also present with restless sleep and nightmares.
Kidney Yin Deficiency – Insomnia linked with Kidney Yin Deficiency is characterised by waking with heat and night sweats. Other additional symptoms may include soreness and weakness of the knees, dizziness, tinnitus / ringing in the ears or hearing problems, a dry mouth and throat and constipation.
People who are experiencing insomnia respond well to acupuncture and Chinese herbal treatment. Once an assessment has been made on the root cause of the imbalance, we can work towards bringing balance back to the organ systems affected.
Acute cases of insomnia will often respond well and resolve quite quickly as they do not tend to hold the same deep imbalance as chronic cases. Chronic long-term insomnia indicates deeper and more complex imbalances and in order to experience lasting relief it is important these dis-harmonies and treated. This may be a longer and more complex treatment plan.
If you would like to talk with me about Insomnia support, please do not hesitate to get in touch. I am available at Mornington Chinese Medicine every Thursday from 2pm – 8pm.
138 Tanti Avenue, Mornington, VIC
03 5973 6886