Western medicine and traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) have different approaches to insomnia. To Western doctors, insomnia is the inability to sleep soundly. If there is no obvious physical reason, such as pain, for the sleeplessness, it will usually be seen as an emotional problem such as stress, anxiety, or depression. A patient with a mild case of insomnia is told to “relax more, cut back on caffeine, try a hot bath or warm milk before bedtime.” For chronic insomnia, the usual response is sleeping pills or anti-depressants. Strong side effect of the drugs is the main reason why they seek for alternative treatment.
Chinese medicine sees insomnia as a symptom of an imbalance in either the fundamental substances of the body (life energy, Blood, Yin, Yang, spirit), or of the major organ systems (Lungs, Heart, Spleen, Liver, Kidneys). Insomnia most often results from imbalances of the Heart or Liver.
For example, people with the Liver Fire pattern get angry easily, and have Heat signs such as a red face, dark yellow urine and dry bowel movements. People with Spleen/Heart deficiency tend to be forgetful, have poor concentration, feel very fatigued, and are always worrying about something. Our treatment principle is to treat from the root cause in order to eliminate insomnia.
In TCM, the most common types of insomnia are: dream-disturbed sleep, difficulty falling asleep, waking up easily, waking up at a specific time every night.
There is a lot of space devoted to insomnia in classical Chinese medicine textbooks. Several different types of insomnia are noted, and the differences point to different origins of the problem. The common types of insomnia are as follows:
Dream-disturbed sleep: Nightmares normally indicate a disorder of the Gall Bladder meridian. Dreams in which we go over and over the same ground, walking in a maze, reliving aspects of our jobs or our relationships generally are due to a Spleen/Heart imbalance. People with this problem say, “I can’t shut my mind off.”