Insomnia affects millions of individuals, their families, and their communities. Sufferers have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep, or they wake up too early and are unable to get back to sleep. People who suffer from insomnia usually wake up feeling tired.
Insomnia happens occasionally to people who are experiencing very stressful life events, consuming too many caffeinated beverages or alcohol, or suffering from pain or other physical discomforts. Once the contributing factors are dealt with, these people will no longer suffer from insomnia.
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Modern treatment for insomnia
Chronic insomnia affects the quality of life, mood, memory, and cognitive functions, and it impairs work performance. Doctors may prescribe sleeping pills like Benzodiazepine receptor agonists that affect brain neurotransmitters. In addition to the possibility of developing physical and psychological dependence, long-term use of these medications often produces side effects, such as residual daytime sedation, cognitive impairment, inhibited motor skills, and rebound insomnia.
Melatonin is a hormone produced in the pineal gland, normally starting in the mid or late evening and diminishing in the early morning. It helps regulate sleep-and-wake cycles.
People take melatonin for conquering jet lag and insomnia. People should use only man-made melatonin with the guidance of their doctors, rather than purchasing it on their own. Melatonin may help immune functions as well. However, melatonin has side effects, such as daytime grogginess, lowered body temperature, and vivid dreams.
Valerian root is a herb that has been used for centuries for relieving anxiety and initiating sleep. People with insomnia should take it right before bedtime. Valerian root needs to be used for a period of two to four weeks if the insomnia is chronic. Possible side effects of Valerian root include mild headaches or indigestion, abnormal heartbeat, and even insomnia in some people. Unfortunately, Valerian root smells like sweaty socks.
Traditional Chinese medicine
According to the theories of ancient Chinese medicine, insomnia is the result of imbalanced chi, involving multiple organs and meridian systems. The organ and meridian systems commonly involved in chronic insomnia are the heart, liver, kidney, and spleen.
That said, patients with chronic insomnia might have different types of chi imbalance or problems with a variety of organ systems and meridians. Therefore, they will suffer from different clinical symptoms and need to be treated appropriately.
Susan is a 40-year-old woman who had trouble falling asleep and often woke up around 2 a.m. It was difficult for her to get back to sleep. However, she also suffered from occasional migraine headaches, pain all over her body, heartburn, and PMS. She complained about her irritable mood and had a chronically bitter taste in her mouth.
According to Chinese medicine, Susan suffered from stagnated liver chi and accumulated heat that affected her heart and liver. After roughly 30 sessions of acupuncture and customized herbal remedies during a three-month period, Susan was finally able to sleep through the night without sleeping pills.
Mary is a 50-year-old woman who started suffering from insomnia after she entered menopause. She felt anxious, irritable, and hot all the time. She would sometimes sweat profusely during the night.
Mary also suffered from lower back pain, and her heart would often beat fast with palpitations. Mary was suffering from “kidney yin deficiency” and had lost control of “heart fire.” Her acupuncture and herbal treatments focused on improving kidney and heart function. As a result, her sleep improved, as well as her mood, hot flashes, and night sweats.
John is 35 years old and works at a stressful job that requires extra time in the evenings and weekends. He worries a lot about his work and family. He has trouble falling asleep and wakes up frequently throughout the night. His muscles ache, and he has trouble losing weight. He looks pale and tired. He feels foggy-headed and has heart palpitations at times.
John was diagnosed with “spleen qi” and “heart blood deficiency.” Therefore, his acupuncture and herbal remedy treatments were designed to improve spleen function and blood circulation. He also has to make changes in his diet and work hours.
Everyone who suffers from chronic insomnia is somewhat different from the traditional Chinese medical perspective. The best course of action would be to be evaluated by an experienced Chinese medicine doctor and follow the treatment plan faithfully.
Insomnia is just a signal of an imbalance in the human body. Treating insomnia does more than improve sleep; it improves health and prevents more serious illnesses from happening.
Dr. Jingduan Yang is a board-certified psychiatrist and a fourth-generation teacher and practitioner of traditional Chinese medicine. He practices integrative medicine in New York City, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey. His website is taoinstitute.com