- shortened life span
- heart disease
- high blood pressure
- lowered immune system
Obviously the risks around not getting enough sleep are serious, and so getting the right health care treatment is essential. Luckily, acupuncture and Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) have been treating sleep issues for thousands of years. Sleep concerns that are often treated with TCM include (note that the term 'insomnia' could relate to a number of the following symptoms):
- difficulty falling asleep
- frequently waking up
- sleeping restlessly
- dream-disturbed sleep
- grinding your teeth while sleeping
- difficulty with waking in the morning
- shallow breathing while sleeping
- excessive daytime sleepiness
- restless leg syndrome
- sleep apnea
In TCM, it is your Spirit (capitalized here to differentiate from other definitions), also known as your Mind, or in Mandarin, your 'Shen', which your quality of sleep depends upon (note that this is a simplification: other sources may distinguish between the Spirit and the Mind as two separate entities). The organ system responsible for nourishing your Spirit is your Heart, and specifically the Yin portion (each of your 5 major organs in TCM have both a Yin and a Yang side to them). If your Heart Yin has been nourished properly your sleep will be okay, but if it is deficient or agitated, you will suffer from sleep concerns.
Deficiencies in your Heart organ system generally come from genetic predisposition, poor diet, childbirth, and the after-effects of external pathogens. Agitating factors usually involve emotional disturbances such as stress, anger or depression, but may also involve natural TCM elemental disturbances, such as Fire or Wind. Essentially, emotional issues as well as Fire and Wind are often related to your Liver, and so Liver Yin deficiency can also affect your sleep.
Dream-disturbed sleep (i.e. dreams that are so intense or disturbing that your sleep is affected), while usually indicative of a deficiency, may sometimes be the cause of an excess as well. For example, it is said in ancient TCM texts that dreaming about flying while seeing strange objects made of gold or iron indicates a Lung deficiency (your Lungs govern your breathing and immune system). Dreaming about crying however, can mean an excess in your Lung organ system (the emotion associated with your Lungs is sadness or grief). Incidentally, it is also believed that your sleeping position, i.e. if you prefer to sleep on your stomach, your back or one side, this may indicate a certain deficiency or excess pattern. Snoring affecting your sleep is often correlated to an excess pattern.
When pursuing acupuncture as a treatment for sleep issues, it is important to seek the help of someone who is a qualified TCM practitioner, as a proper diagnosis is essential to getting adequate results. Proper diagnosis of your sleep issue will first determine whether your condition is one of deficiency or excess, and furthermore what type thereof. For example, difficulty in falling asleep usually indicates one type of deficiency, whereas falling asleep easily but waking up frequently through the night may indicate a different type of deficiency altogether. By asking a number of questions, taking your pulse and possibly even looking at your tongue, a TCM practitioner can diagnose you quite accurately, and therefore choose the appropriate course of treatment specific to your needs.
By Richard Lobbenberg, Acupuncturist and TCM Practitioner
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