Insomnia is a sleep disorder in which a person experiences difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep. Insomnia can also be caused by fatigue, depression, irritability, and memory problems. Insomnia can either be the main condition (primary), or the result of another disorder (secondary).
What Causes Insomnia?
There are many reasons why a person experiences difficulty sleeping. The main factors are summarized below:
- Adverse reactions to medication– several classes of medications are known to cause insomnia in patients. Some of the types of medication known for this side-effect are corticosteroids, statins, alpha blockers, beta blockers, antidepressants, ACE inhibitors, ARBs, cholinesterase inhibitors, and glucosamine.
- Hormonal changes– resulting from menopause, menstruation, or stress. Stress can be a primary factor as it will release cortisol (the ‘fight or flight’ hormone) into the body and remain at night. Persons with high cortisol levels will find it difficult to relax and may feel agitated.
- Psychological issues– such as bipolar disorder, mood disorder, depression, psychotic, or anxiety disorders. There are also many neurotransmitters correlating with sleeping and wakefulness. In these cases, insomnia may be due to a chemical imbalance.
- Circadian rhythm changes– often temporary and cause by jet lag, shift work changes, high altitudes, or an uncomfortable environment
How is Insomnia Treated with Acupuncture and Traditional Chinese Medicine?
For acute cases of insomnia, there are many effective natural remedies to help promote restful sleep. If insomnia is triggered by anxiety or overthinking, specific breathing techniques and mindful meditation have proven to be an effective therapy to calm the mind and ease the body. Also, Chinese herbs such as jujube seed, licorice root, fleeceflower stem, and lily bulb have therapeutic effect in calming the mind to promote healthy sleep. There are also specific acupuncture points to calm the nerves and decrease agitation/restlessness for sleepless nights. These acupuncture points trigger the parasympathetic nervous system, which brings the body ease.
Taking a while to fall asleep can typically be due to mental anguish caused by stress, depression, anxiety, or side effects of medications and medical conditions. In these cases, the body and mind are in a state of heightened awareness and the sympathetic system (fight or flight response) is fully alert. In these cases, acupuncture is used to decrease the sympathetic response and activate the parasympathetic (rest and relax) response. There are specific points which can activate this response and bring the body ease, as well as calm the mind down.
Waking up in the middle of the night or waking early with difficulty to fall back asleep are both common types of insomnia. If it is due to a cause such as night urination or hot flashes, those need to be addressed first. However, if a person wakes at night with difficulty to fall back asleep and seems fully awake, it may be due to a rush of adrenaline surging through the body. This adrenaline rush is due to an imbalance in the hormone cortisol. Cortisol should be highest in the morning then decrease until the evening. However, if cortisol levels are consistently high, the adrenals will be consistently overworked and will start releasing adrenaline as well (often around 3am) causing the person to wake with a start and feel alert, making it difficult to return to sleep. In these cases, acupuncture is used to regulate the function of the adrenal glands and decrease the adrenaline and cortisol levels in the body by (again) promoting the sympathetic system to induce a relaxed state. This will essentially ease the body to return to the normal circadian rhythm. Find out how acupuncture regulates the adrenals and organ systems here.
While acupuncture is effective in stimulating relaxation and regulating stress hormones, we can never rule out the key underlying factor. This factor will differ in everyone and can vary from a liver dysfunction, digestive disturbances, or impedance in blood flow. A good practitioner will address all of these factors to not only ensure good sleep, but overall health. To find out how we can address your sleep problems, please do not hesitate to contact us for a consultation.