Sleeping problems – giving the Shen a strong calm place to rest

Chinese medicine treats every person as an individual. So when you come to me for help with your sleep my first job is to understand your health in an all-round way, by asking you about every aspect of your health. Only when I have understood the underlying strengths, balance and flow of your Qi ( or energy) can I work out why you are having problems sleeping and how to treat you effectively. This is very different from a prescription for a sleeping pill! I have several patients who have had trouble sleeping – some cannot get off to sleep, some wake frequently in the night, some have restless sleep and bad dreams – and each one requires acupuncture in different points. I enjoy helping you with these problems – poor sleep is such a miserable thing to live with.

If you feel tired when you go to bed but then cannot settle to sleep, it is likely that you Qi and Blood need strengthening. You may find that you feel anxious or ‘on edge’ for no particular reason and you may become aware of your heart beating in your chest. I use acupuncture and moxa to build up your Qi and Blood. Then the part of you that Chinese medicine calls the ‘Shen’ (translated as your heart-mind or spirit)  has a strong, safe, warm place to rest at night, and sleep will be quicker and deeper. If your Blood is thin or weak, then the Shen cannot settle and you get that unsettled wakeful feeling.

Maybe instead of this you are a ‘3 o’clock waker’. Your Shen settles to sleep easily but then, some people say ‘like clockwork’, you wake up and are wide awake. This pattern suggests an imbalance in the Liver meridian, which is part of the Wood element. This is not the same as the liver that we know about from Western medicine, but it is the system in the body that has the job of regulating the flow of Qi and Blood around the whole body day and night. If this flow is not free flowing and appropriate for the time of day or night, then the Shen cannot stay calm and peaceful all night. It becomes agitated so that you get vivid dreams, restless sleep and/or sudden waking up. Then I use acupuncture to strengthen the Liver meridian and the Wood element in a way that promotes the smooth flow of Qi and Blood. Sleeping through the night then becomes possible.

Another common pattern is to wake up in the night feeling very hot. This pattern is commoner in women, and at its worst around the menopause, but it can affect men and women. It is due to an imbalance between the two types of Qi, or energy, called Yin and Yang. The Yin aspect of Qi is the cool, calm, enduring type of energy and if it gets weakened, by overwork and stress, the body feels hot and a bit jittery. Yin and yang energy have different phases, with Yin most important at night – hence the lack of cool, calm Yin is most noticeable at night when it can wake you up. I use acupuncture to nourish and strengthen your Yin and as balance is restored so sleep will improve. I remember a text from a patient which said “Woke up at 9.30. Can’t believe I slept to well, thanks” – and when she came for her next treatment she was still beaming!

It may be that you have a mixture of these patterns – this is quite common. For example, this week a patient came back after two treatments and reported that she was sleeping through the night much better, but it still took two hours to get to sleep. I took this to mean that her Qi was flowing more smoothly but her Qi and blood were still at a low level. Strengthening Qi and blood can take quite a few treatment sessions, especially if they have been at a low ebb for a long time. Improvement in sleeping problems may be fast or may be slow but as it goes alongside improvements in general health and wellbeing it is always very worthwhile.

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