Let's start with what we don't mean by insomnia! If you can't sleep because of an existing illness or temporary change in circumstances, then probably that needs to be sorted out first.
For example, if you can't sleep because:
© mediterranean - fotolia.com
Sorry! All those are excellent reasons for your sleeplessness and
Chinese Medicine may be able to help them, but they're not the subject
of this page.
Why? Because in some of those cases it's your own fault (eg too much coffee!) and in others, once the underlying illness is cured your sleeplessness will go, meaning that your problem is secondary to something else.
Willingly or otherwise, you've arrived on a page that explains insomnia and sleep disorders from a different point of view - that of Chinese medicine. Chinese medicine began who knows when, but there are written records going back 3000 years, with a world-view, or rather a universe-view, that modern scientists and philosophers have only recently begun to appreciate.
This way of looking at life and health continues to make a huge impression on those who have seen it in action, and it is used by people and in medical practices and large hospitals round the world.
Adaptations of it include what is called Battlefield Acupuncture, developed by the United States Army Medical Corps.
More and more people look to it for help with, for instance, back-pain, for which the British National Institute for Clinical Excellence (NICE) now recommends acupuncture.
Further down this page you can read how Chinese medicine fits insomnia into its ideas about Yin and Yang.
Insomnia comes in many forms. Click the links to find out more:
According to Sleep, (doi.org/68b) less than 6 hours of sleep a night makes you more susceptible to catching colds.
A study of 160 people given cold virus nasal drops showed that those averaging under 6 hours sleep were four times as likely to catch a cold as compared with those who got more than 7 hours nightly.
Sleep well and stay well!
Imagine a hot air balloon, held down by a large bucket containing liquids and fuel. If you like, the balloon represents your mind and the bucket your body. The bucket's contents represent your reserves of energy and the liquids in your body.
As it's a hot air balloon, it burns the liquids to heat the air in the balloon to make it rise up.
In Chinese Medicine terms the balloon is Yang (tries to expand and rise) and the bucket and its contents Yin (tries to contract and descend). Click Yin and Yang to read more on this.
When you are awake and feeling good...
When you're awake, the balloon (Yang - your Mind) is hot and it easily floats upwards, untroubled by sleepiness.
This might be after a good night's sleep, when you emerge in a positive frame of mind and looking forward to the day ahead.
Conversely, when you are tired and want to lie down...
...after you've used up the reserves in the tank, the balloon is less hot and sinks downwards.
When the bucket is too small, or doesn't contain enough counterweight, just the fuel, the balloon ascends too easily because there isn't enough to hold it down.
If your bucket is too small, possibly you are a small child or an elderly person.
In both cases, your body can't easily 'contain' enough liquid so it can't outweigh your Yang and Mind energy.
Here even a little heat is enough to raise the balloon. (Babies with small bodies can be hard to settle. Older people have shrunken bodies or depleted liquids that don't contain enough Yin factors to keep them asleep.)
If your mind is too active, or you're high on excitement (or drugs), or you're too hot perhaps from dancing or exercise, then your Yang is too strong for your Yin, at least until the Yang (your Mind and your heat) has cooled down a bit.
This is not uncommon the night before a big event, a journey, a holiday or a party.
Of course, it also covers when you have a fever or when the weather is too hot.
As mentioned, the balloon is Yang, the bucket is Yin and so are its contents. To get to sleep and to stay sleep, you need enough Yin (an adequately-sized bucket with enough liquid), and reduced Yang (a reducing flame and hence a cooler balloon).
When you are comfortably asleep, Yang rests within Yin: your Mind rests within the body.
Then, in the morning, after a good sleep, your Yang-Mind is reinvigorated from its rest within your Yin-Body, and your Yin-Body energy is refreshed from the presence of your Yang. Up you get, feeling great!
Chinese Medicine has words to describe these 'balloon' analogy conditions, and if your insomnia can be recognised as being due, for instance, to 'excess Yang' or 'deficient Yin' then it can probably be treated. These descriptions are syndromes in Chinese medicine which has developed far beyond these basic ideas and now includes syndromes like Energy ('Qi') deficiency, Heart Blood stasis and Liver Fire to explain different kinds of insomnia and the sleep disorders we experience.
If you've had insomnia for only a few days, or even just a very few weeks, and there's no obvious reason for it and you aren't aware of any change of habits that preceded the onset of your insomnia, you'll probably resist the idea that making some simple changes to your life and habits will make any difference.
Probably you're right. But just in case ... if you aren't aware of any possible cause for it, I suggest you get someone else to ask you questions. Ideally they would be qualified - an acupuncturist comes to mind - and able to persist and ask you searching questions about your recent life.
That may uncover something you thought was unimportant at the time such as (but this is not an all-inclusive list, just things patients have told me about themselves over the years, not realizing their significance for the start of their insomnia):
Girls by the Pool
© Rebecca Abell
Dreamstime Stock Photos
From this list or from thinking about the question with someone else, you may uncover something that suggests either too much Yang or not enough Yin.
Actually, that's not quite the end of it. You could have too much Yin as well. Food Retention causing heat is like a compost heap with new mown grass in it: it sits there and heats up. There the difference ends, because in the compost heap you want it to cook to break down the grass over a period of time so that worms will eat it and produce good earth to put back on the ground.
Whereas in your gut, it smoulders away producing burping and other discomforts including insomnia as it wakes you up. So Food Retention is blocked Yin producing too much Yang.
To help you make sense of it, read the following on Yin-Yang theory.
If you grasped the balloon analogy above, you'll realise that where you sleep should have Yin characteristics.
If you are experiencing sleep disorders, before you start taking medication, do consider seeing an acupuncturist! See below.
Click the following links to find out more:
If you live in the Edinburgh area of Scotland, where the author of this site (and of the books described below) works, click on Edinburgh Acupuncturist.
If you live elsewhere, click on BAcC.
Please note! The Kindle editions are less easy to read! Although the paper editions cost more, they are much easier to read and to refer back and forth to the contents and index. But ... there is no paper edition of Yang Deficiency as yet.
Here are some of the books Jonathan has written:
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