Suffering from Insomnia?

By Autumn Ta, LAc

According to Chinese Medicine, there are many causes of insomnia. The specific patterns that cause insomnia are determined for each individual through the intake, pules, and tongue during an office visit. As a general rule insomnia can arise from either relative excess (too much of something, i.e. heat) or relative deficiency (too little of something, i.e. blood). Some of the more common patterns are blood deficiency, yin deficiency, and heat.
If you find yourself having a difficult time falling asleep it could be due to blood deficiency. Blood is the substance that carries nutrients to all aspects of the body. Blood is also said to house the mind, and its abundance allows our emotions and thoughts to be grounded and rooted. If the quality of blood is weak or deficient, we tend to feel more fatigued and as though our mind wanders. The specific causes of blood deficiency are different for everyone. This doesn’t mean you should rush out to get a blood transfusion; there are lots of ways to build your blood, such as through diet and maintaining a balance between work and rest.
If you find yourself unable to stay asleep, it could be due to yin deficiency. Yin is the fuel and lubricant for the entire body. When we have adequate yin, we feel that we have reserves of nutrients to rebuild tissue and maintain our bodies. Mentally and emotionally we feel we have enough reserves to pull from. When we don’t have enough of the cooling lubricant, we being to heat up (actually feel warm) and dry up (i.e. dry skin), which makes us feel more irritable and unsettled. This pattern can arise when we’ve overworked ourselves for a long period of time, from an illness, or being born with a weak constitution.
If you are having dream-disturbed sleep, it could be due to too much heat in the system from relative excess (or relative deficiency). There are many ways we could become hot such as being exposed to a hot environment, over-activity or strain leading to inflammation, or having feelings that can’t be resolved or expressed. Whether heat arises as a result of relative excess or relative deficiency is important for adequate treatment approach. If heat is caused by relative deficiency, both the heat and the underlying deficiency need to be addressed to fully resolve the pattern.
Many lifestyle factors can upset the natural sleep cycle and cause these patterns to arise such as over-exertion and worry, overwork, anger, stress, and an inconsistent diet.
In approaching these patterns through Chinese Food Energetics, for blood deficiency, eat a diet rich in fresh vegetables, particularly leafy greens with adequate protein (in the form of beans or meat and fish).  Fortunately, blood deficiency is easily improved through diet.
Yin deficiency is more difficult to improve through diet alone without lifestyle changes, and slower to repair over time since it typically arises from more chronic conditions. However, you can improve your yin over time through eating more sweet and cool, sour and salty foods, such as fruit, a small amount of dairy (ideally cultured for easy digestion), seaweed, kidney bean, pork, sesame, sweet potatoes, and yam.
For heat in the system arising from either relative excess or relative deficiency, avoid hot, spicy foods and incorporate more cooling foods, such as chard, celery, cabbage, cucumber, mint, pear, beansprouts, radish, lettuce, and olives. For heat from deficiency, the underlying deficiency pattern would need to be addressed as well.
While these are generalizations of each pattern, each individual is unique in how their pattern arises and manifests. For a more detailed, in-depth exploration of what your pattern may be and tailored plan, come in for a consultation.