Struggling to Get a Good Nights Sleep? Chinese Medicine Can Help
SLEEP PART 3:
Acupuncture Can Help
Alright, we’ve already looked at the importance of sleep, how much we should be getting, how to tell when you’re getting enough and what we can do to improve our sleep in parts 1 & part 2. In this final article of this 3 part sleep series, we’ll explore what can go wrong with our sleep, common treatments and look at Chinese medicine for sleep.
Insomnia & Issues With Sleep
There are those of us who will knowingly sacrifice sleep to get that extra work done, or binge that new netflix series, but for some, no matter how hard they try to get a good night sleep, the body or mind just won’t play ball.
Insomnia can affect people in different ways. Typically it is split between “onset insomnia” where there is difficulty falling asleep initially. This can mean lying awake for hours, unable to stop a constant wave of thoughts racing through the mind. Then there’s “maintenance insomnia” where one will have difficulty staying asleep through the night, for example waking up around 3am and finding it difficult to fall back asleep. For some, there may be trouble with both.
Most of us will experience restless nights here and there, but for some, it becomes a chronic pattern of sleep deprivation. Conservative estimates suggest 10-30% of adults live with chronic insomnia, while other statistics suggest higher numbers.
Go to your doctor with symptoms of insomnia and you’ll most likely leave with a prescription for a type of “sedative-hypnotic” sleep medication. While these may help you sleep initially, there is growing evidence against the use of these medications as a first line treatment for insomnia. These medications typically create a cycle of dependency where a user will suffer “rebound insomnia” initially when attempting to cease use, triggering anxiety around trying to sleep without taking a sleeping pill.
Evidence now supports cognitive behavioural therapy over the use of medication as a first line treatment. In Australia, the National Prescribing Service suggests the “prescription of hypnotics should only follow a careful evaluation and consideration of other approaches including psychological interventions such as cognitive behaviour therapy. In general hypnotics should only be prescribed if the duration of use is likely to be less than four weeks, and preferably less than one or two weeks.” They go on to recommend that a clear exit plan should be laid out before any prescription is made. Sadly this is not always common practice and so many can get trapped in a vicious cycle of prescription sleep medication.
Others may also turn to supplements or other alternative medicines for help such as magnesium, melatonin, CBD, essential oils, etc. While some swear by these, many will find these sleep aids very hit or miss. Often what is missing is a holistic approach that treats you as a whole person, rather than just trying to knock you out for sleep.
Chinese Medicine For Sleep
“The secret of good health lies in a good and restful sleep. One who sleeps well restores his energy, revitalises his inner system, and tones up his muscles… Is not sleep the infallible miracle drug, not just a cure for one illness but for a hundred, a cure that saves a thousand lives.”
- Li Liweng, 1611-1679
China has a long culture of longevity practices (known as yang sheng - “nourishing life”) which emphasise the importance of sleep and appropriate rest. In Chinese medicine, where there is an emphasis on restoring or enhancing one’s natural ability to heal and recover from injury and illness, treating insomnia and correcting sleep is of high importance.
Chinese medicine for insomnia has a long tradition, with many acupuncture and herbal medicine techniques that can be tried. At Village Remedies we routinely use these treatments not only for insomnia, but also for those with chronic illnesses to improve their sleep for better recovery.
Every treatment plan is tailored to you and your specific situation and needs. We will always take into account things like chronic pain, tension, stress levels, digestive function and other health markers, with the goal of not only helping you sleep better, but also feel happier and healthier in general.
Often, we see insomnia issues rooted in a nervous system that has become too sympathetic (fight or flight) dominant. This is very common in our fast paced society where working hard while sacrificing sleep and rest is often glorified. When using acupuncture for sleep, our goal is to help retrain your body to be able to switch more effectively into a parasympathetic (rest & digest) state, the opposite to our sympathetic (fight or flight) response. Over a series of acupuncture sessions we look for improvements in sleep, energy and mood to know that we’re on the right track. Long term sleep issues often require longer term treatment, but you should have an idea as to whether the acupuncture is working within the first 2 weeks or so.
If your insomnia is related to chronic pain or illness, our focus will shift towards correcting root causes of these issues in order to help with insomnia. Typically these cases will require long term treatment, but again, you should be seeing value within the first few weeks of treatment.
Often Chinese herbal medicine is prescribed in conjunction with acupuncture treatments when the insomnia is stubborn and chronic, or if it is difficult for a person to come in frequently enough for acupuncture. We may also teach acupressure and/or breathing techniques to be used at home around bed time.
Ultimately the goal of chinese medicine and acupuncture for insomnia is to restore your natural healthy sleep patterns, without becoming dependent on treatment. As you improve, we walk you through a process of tapering off treatment until you’re sleeping better by yourself, perhaps with a maintenance treatment periodically to keep things on track.