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Help for Insomnia

So many people I know needlessly suffer from insomnia. This is a very common sleep disorder and it can affect people of any demographic. The causes are many and range from mood disorders to chronic pain to internal medicine issues. 

There are a few things you can do on your own to ensure that you get a good night’s sleep. Before I get into the specific technique to relieve your insomnia, allow me to briefly discuss some pertinent Chinese medicine theory.

Bu Mei or insomnia is a disease category in Chinese medicine. According to Philippe Sionneau & Lu Gang in The Treatment of Disease in TCM, Vol. 1 (Blue Poppy Press, 2008), there are nine potential patterns of imbalance that can cause insomnia:

  1. Heart/Spleen Dual Vacuity
  2. Breakdown of Interaction Between Heart/Kidneys
  3. Heart Yin Vacuity
  4. Gallbladder vacuity & Qi timidity
  5. Phlegm Fire
  6. Liver Fire
  7. Heart Fire Exuberance
  8. Retained Heat
  9. Food Stagnation

For the best treatment of insomnia, it is my opinion that a careful assessment with Chinese medicine diagnostics to uncover the underlying pattern(s) must come first before a treatment is delivered. Then a treatment including acupuncture and herbal medicine to address the underlying pattern(s) is applied. 

This process is repeated until the root of the condition (the underlying constitutional cause of the insomnia) is brought back into balance.

Very commonly in speaking with patients in my acupuncture practice, I discover that folks are waking up at Liver time (1-3 a.m.) The little story I weave for them to help explain goes a little something like this. We live busy lives and just being an adult in Western society means that we experience some stress. 

The feeling of stress is the sensation of a Liver in qi-stagnation status. The stress must be actively released somehow or it will have repercussions that one may not expect. Stagnation is an excess condition because what wants to flow is stuck and creating friction. 

That friction can cause heat. Heat rises and can move to other organs in the body (especially ones higher than the liver such as the Heart and the Lungs, but also commonly the Spleen and Stomach). Excess heat agitating an organ will tend to manifest as sleeplessness during that organ’s associated time on the Chinese “circadian clock.”

Not everyone has the wherewithal to seek immediate and continued Chinese medicine treatment when they are suffering from insomnia. So for those who need a quick-fix to help you sleep tonight I offer you a technique which comes from two healing traditions: Ayurveda and Medical Qigong.

As you are winding down for bed, take a few moments to do self-massage. Start by rubbing your hands together to generate some heat. 

Then, put your hands on your lower back in (in the region of your kidneys) and massage in a circular motion. Do this calmly and quietly 100 times. 

Next, place a few drops of sesame oil in your hands (yes, the kind you cook with). Massage the sole of your left foot 100 times with the sesame oil. Add another drop or two and repeat for the right foot. Get immediately into bed and turn out the lights. Done!

Now, if you have a partner at home who could do this for you while you are already in bed, that is ideal. You may wish to place a small towel under your feet during the massage to prevent spilling the oil onto your clothes or bedding.

I have had good success using this technique on one partner in particular who suffered from insomnia. Giving her foot massage like this consistently knocked her out within 5 minutes tops. Many patients report to me that this technique has worked for them too. I hope you will experience a similar if not better effect.

I would not consider this to be any kind of “cure” for insomnia but rather a tool you can apply when needed. Clearly the more thorough approach is to have the underlying constitutional causes of your insomnia addressed with a medical professional.

Lastly, for those who regularly suffer from insomnia and who have tried various approaches to it’s treatment, I have a recommendation: do an internet search for the term “sleep hygiene.” This is a concept that will allow one to set up a conducive environment for sleep.

Sleep well everyone!

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