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Treating Insomnia with Chinese Medicine

Insomnia is a common condition, which can include difficulty falling asleep, difficulty staying asleep, or waking early. It is recognised by the WHO (World Health Organisation) as a condition which can be treated effectively by acupuncture. 1
Every individual is different so it is hard to define what a ‘normal’ sleep pattern is. Factors include age, lifestyle, diet and environment. For example, newborn babies can sleep for 16 hours a day, while children of school age need an average of 10 hours. Adults usually need an average of seven to nine hours sleep a night. 2
It is thought that up to one third of people in the UK suffer from insomnia, which is slightly more common in women than men. 3 However, subjective measures indicate that a majority of adults may often be dissatisfied with the quality of sleep that they get– for example a study carried out by the US National Sleep Foundation in 2009 asked people “how they typically feel when they wake up”, giving the response shown in Fig 1:

Insomnia and acupuncture

Fig. 1. Taken from

Over half the respondents replied that they woke up feeling “slightly groggy,” while around 38 percent replied “exhausted.” Only just under 9 percent said they felt “well-rested.”

There can be many causes of insomnia. For instance, pain can cause insomnia because the person either is not able to get into a comfortable position for sleeping or the pain wakes them up. Eating late at night is a common cause of insomnia, because bloating and/or indigestion, may make it difficult to fall asleep easily. Other causes of insomnia may be mental restlessness and anxiety, and women approaching the menopause often report sleep disturbances brought on by night sweats and hot flushes.

No matter what the underlying cause, Chinese Medicine, in the form of acupuncture and herbs, can have a profound effect on treating insomnia. From a Chinese perspective, treatment of an individual’s insomnia will be targeted at the underlying cause – and could for example include acupuncture point combinations or herbal formulas which:
• alleviate pain
• quiet the mind
• reduce food stagnation and harmonize digestion
• nourish the blood
• rebalance Yin and Yang energy within the body

Other areas of advice might include appropriate routines to encourage good sleep, such as avoiding stimulants and maintaining regular sleeping hours. Dietary and lifestyle changes can also be extremely helpful in supporting the treatment and making it more successful. Chinese Medicine always works best when it is a genuine co-operation between practitioner and client working together to bring your health and well-being – and, hopefully, your sleeping pattern! – back into balance.

1. World Health Organization 2007. International Statistical Classification of Disease 10th revision (ICD-10)
2. UK National HealthService 2009. Britain’s sleepless nights. Available
3. Office of National Statistics 2000. Psychiatric Morbidity among Adults living in Private Households. Available: