What are the reasons for insomnia? Why can’t you sleep? Here are some possibilities using wisdom and experience from Chinese medicine.
June 26, 2020
Why can’t you sleep? What are the reasons for insomnia? Sometimes working out the reason shows you what to do. But sometimes you know perfectly well what the reason is, but also, you know you can’t do much about it, at least in the short-term.
By the way!
Are you looking for a simple way to understand Insomnia from the point of view of Chinese medicine?
Or Insomnia Treatments?
Wait! Are you sure you need reasons for insomnia?
Could you be sleeping normally for your age?
What’s normal? People vary! But after some three thousand years, the Chinese have some broad recommendations for the number of hours that most people in the age categories given need over a 24 hour period:
Up to 6 months old: you probably need ~16 hours daily
Between 6 months and 2 years: 13 hours
Aged between 2 and 12: between 10 and 12 hours
12 – 18 years old: 9 – 10 hours daily
Adult 7 – 8 hours
Aged 60 or more: 5 – 7 hours
(Source: Gu Yu Qi – Chinese Medicine Psychology, pub China Medicine Science and Technology Publishing House, Beijing 2005 p46)
Of course, teenagers, always difficult, are now thought to need sleep at widely varying times from those considered appropriate in the past.
There is evidence that they should be allowed to sleep later in the morning and that higher levels of depression and anxiety were found in those whose sleep was curtailed. (Research reported by the National Sleep Foundation.)
This is a common reason. Often there’s not much you can do about the cause of your stress, but there may be plenty you can do about dealing with the effects. Stress symptoms often include insomnia, and stress is frequently diagnosed as a syndrome in Chinese medicine called Qi Stagnation. It’s a big subject, and packed full of things you can do – I even wrote a book about it.
A recent traumatic experience, like a shock, big fright, accident, emotional roller-coaster, loss or disappointment? This has possibly unbalanced the flow of your Blood causing perhaps Heart Shen disturbance or Blood Stagnation.
Feeling depressed, hopeless, emotionally flat? This can also be from stress, see above, but it could also be from various other syndromes in Chinese medicine, for example, or Gallbladder deficiency.
4. Medications or Drugs
Are you on any drugs that could be upsetting your sleep?
alcohol tends to heat you up in bed when you should be gradually cooling down, so you wake, hot, after a few hours;
caffeine – coffee; some people get along fine with coffee, whereas others have sleep problems for several nights after even one cup of it. However, it seems generally accepted that for many people, coffee is better avoided after midday. Click on coffee to find out more why this is so bad for sleep and, in particular, WHO it’s bad for.
cold or ‘flu medicines containing alcohol;
corticosteroids – may reduce inflammation but also, over time, deplete Yin energy, making it harder to sleep;
decongestants – usually work like steroids to calm inflammation, but their long-term effect is to reduce Yin;
diuretics- make you pee, so you need to rise at night;
high blood-pressure (hypertension) medications;
nicotine – ie tobacco; if smoked, tobacco seems to have a primary descending effect on Qi (which is why it relaxes you) but its secondary effect is heating. That heat disturbs sleep. (For more on what these words intend, see Primary and Secondary effects.)
social drugs that put you on a ‘high’; they overstimulate Yang and can deplete Yin.
steroids – over time, these reduce Yin energy;
Most of these medications deplete Yin energy. You need Yin to be able to absorb and nourish your Yang energy as you sleep. So less Yin means less sleep. For more about this click insomnia. There is a trade-off between the medications for your discomfort, and in the long-term, your ability to sleep and reasons for insomnia.
5.Other Health Issues
Do you have any health conditions that could be interfering with your sleep? What about the following reasons for insomnia: –
sleep apnea (you stop breathing from time to time during your sleep)
If the illness you have can be diagnosed as a syndrome in Chinese medicine then that syndrome can probably be treated. Chinese medicine has syndromes for all the above conditions. (As time goes by, we’ll add links to explanations for them.)
6. Where you sleep
Is where you sleep conducive to sleep? How quiet and dark is it? How comfortable is your bed? Is your bed warm and your room cool? (It should be.) These can all be important reasons for insomnia, causing sleeplessness from time to time, or regularly.
Did you know that the amount of time you spend in daylight, especially in the sun, and conversely at night in the darkness, makes a huge difference to how much of the hormones responsible for sleep your body produces? Sunlight has huge benefits both for Blood and, being a source of Yang, for our spirits, our Shen. Sunlight, although it is a source of electromagnetism, is mainly in the visible spectrum so its energy is absorbed through the skin, which has the right receptors for it. Not so microwaves, for which see below.
Are your sleep habits steady, going to bed and getting up at the same times regularly?
9. Work Patterns
Or are you on shifts which often disrupt your work and rest patterns? These can make huge differences to sleep. Like Jetlag, this seem to upset the natural flow of what Chinese medicine calls Blood. Of course, frequent changes of shift also affect your Qi.
Jetlag is frequently one of the reasons for insomnia. It upsets the natural flow of Blood in the body.
Are you always anxious? When there is no good reason for it? In Chinese medicine there are various kinds of anxiety, and some of them definitely include insomnia. For example, depending on the effect the anxiety has on you, there may be syndromes connected with the Heart, the Kidney and what is called the Penetrating Vessel.
In some parts of the world, sudden changes in the weather can affect people, causing migraines and other health problems, including breathing problems, and of course, insomnia. These sudden changes in the weather, in Chinese medicine, come under ‘External Causes of Disease‘, and include Wind and Heat, for example.
This is another of the reasons for insomnia that upset the mind, the Shen, in Chinese medicine. Worry often causes Spleen Qi disharmony.
Are you beginning to age? Age, in Chinese medicine, comes with a decrease in the body’s ability to regenerate its Blood and Qi energies, and the aged often sleep less because they use less of these energies.
15. Screen Time
One modern-researched cause of insomnia is watching television, or staring at your computer screen, or playing video games or using tablets and i-pads which are backlit during the hours immediately before you try to go to sleep. Research at the University of Auckland in New Zealand apparently discovered this. At the time of writing this I haven’t seen the research, which mainly suggested this was a problem with children and teenagers.
A similar problem is LED light which is known to be too blue and this depletes the hormones we need for sleep. With LED lights being so cheap, one unintended consequence may be worse sleep. The theory suggests that because hormones are predominantly Yin (especially those needed for sleep), that LED light depletes Yin.
Lack of exercise during the day is one of the main reasons for insomnia. If you don’t exercise, you don’t move your Qi and Blood, you don’t clear Qi stagnation and this stops your Liver being able to store your Blood at night. This means that your Shen has nowhere to rest during sleep. For more on this see our page on Insomnia.
17. Electromagnetic Rays and Emissions
One of the less scientifically-accepted reasons for insomnia is that of being affected by electromagnetic rays, and microwave emissions. If there is a reason for this in Chinese medicine it might be that because such rays are sources of Yang energy and because the skin is no barrier to them, they either deplete Yin and/or cause a form of Heat.
This Heat would probably affect the Blood and become, in effect, a form of what is called Residual Heat.
This form of Heat is said to lodge in the diaphragm area, from where it hassles (the correct word in ‘harasses’) the Heart.
Since the Heart governs the Shen, the Mind, the Mind cannot settle. The Mind not being able to settle is one of the main reasons for insomnia in Chinese medicine.
However, do understand that these are my suppositions, ie not from a Chinese medicine authority!
IF my supposition are correct, then the correct procedure in Chinese medicine would be to clear that Heat.
Of course, if this is indeed one of the reasons for insomnia, one would suggest putting more distance between yourself and the sources of electromagnetism, be they electric alarm clocks or cellphone radiation masts.
One might expect some people to be more easily susceptible to such electromagnetism than others. Such people, one might reason, would tend to be mostly those with either a tendency to Yin deficiency or those already with some kind of Residual Heat, possibly including a condition known as latent heat.
18. Wrong Use of Bed
Using your bed and bedroom for any activities other than sleep and making love is often thought to disturb sleep which is probably because it upsets the Shen, the Mind. So, add reading in bed to your reasons for insomnia!
19. Napping too often or at all, when you don’t need the sleep. See above for the recommended hours you need.