Causes of Sleep Apnea in Chinese medicine
There are four main syndromes that describe or explain the condition in Chinese medicine. They are often interlinked.
Find out far more about these by clicking on the links but briefly these syndromes arise as follows.
1. Sleep Apnoea and Spleen Qi deficiency
The Spleen in Chinese medicine turns food into Blood and energy – Qi; it keeps things in place; it governs how we process things and it clears out garbage. You could say that like a concerned parent, it feeds you and makes sure you are ready to go to school.
When its function fails for some reason,
- your energy goes down including your ability to sleep properly
- you’ll find your appetite is affected in one of a number of ways, including desiring foods that are harmful and on the other hand, losing your appetite – read Nutrition
- your digestion is affected
- things begin to lose their tone, so they prolapse or swell
- you find it harder to process thoughts and actions
- garbage collects inside you
As regards sleep apnea,
- your sleep patterns alter
- you may eat the wrong foods, or eat at a time when your body isn’t able to digest food properly, for example when tired or too late in the evening before going to bed
- your muscles along your digestive tract lose their tone
- food isn’t digested so well
- the garbage is ‘phlegm‘
hlegm and Sleep apnea
Phlegm has a special place at the heart of Chinese medicine. It turns up all over the place, in different forms. If you see a practitioner of Chinese medicine or acupuncture who, after you’ve explained your problem, looks sort of broody, he is probably diagnosing Phlegm: it gets blamed whenever he can’t quite work it out. (Mind you, it could be Damp!)
- Putting on weight – inappropriate flesh (and fat) – is regarded as being a form of phlegm.
- It’s also that stuff you feel embarrassed about spitting out.
- If you get nodules or fatty cysts under you skin, that’s a form of Phlegm too.
- As regards Sleep Apnea, phlegm is said to collect in the breathing passages or around them, and this is pretty close to Western Medicine’s diagnosis of fatty tissues surrounding the larynx and throat.
- It is also represents the stuff that blocks your nose.
2. Sleep apnoea and your acupuncture channels
The acupuncture channels that pass through the throat, pharynx, nose and mouth – ie airways – are all involved in maintaining their health. These include (but I have not included them all):
- Lung primary and divergent
- Large Intestine primary, divergent and sinew
- Stomach primary and luo-connecting
- Spleen divergent
- Heart divergent
- Kidney primary
- Liver primary (ascends the posterior part of the throat)
(Words like ‘primary’, ‘divergent’ and ‘sinew’ are names of the main acupuncture channels and their off-shoots which are not usually shown in basic books of acupuncture meridians.)
With Sleep apnea, any of these could be involved. Consequently, for example, chronic Lung problems make more likely both snoring and difficulty breathing, including sleep apnea. Even if you only had a cold/virus, and it took longer for you to recover than expected, even without antibiotics, your Lung Qi function may have decreased making you more likely to snore etc.
Long-term, as you age, your Kidney energy weakens. Because in Chinese medicine your Kidney energy (please do not confuse this with your kidneys or your bladder) is the support for all your other Zangfu, as it weakens, ie as you age, problems start to happen along the channels ruled by those Zangfu.
From this point of view, the tissues round the throat and in the nose and at the back of the mouth all tend to weaken with age, increasing susceptibility to snoring, poor tone, and Liver Qi stagnation.
3. Sleep apnoea and Qi Stagnation
Qi Stagnation is a big subject (I’ve even written a book about it) and it can have many causes, not the least of which is emotional. If Qi stagnation has developed in you over a period of time, one of your Zangfu most affected will be the Spleen.
Spleen Qi stagnation leads to an increase in the problems mentioned above under Spleen, but with tension in the muscles too and, often a sense of a lump in the throat.
That lump may or may not be tangible phlegm-catarrh, but the genius of Chinese medicine is to realise that whether or not a lump of catarrh exists, one can treat it as such. So treatments for Sleep Apnea (in Chinese herbal medicine or acupuncture) often include action to clear Phlegm and soothe away Qi stagnation.
4. Sleep Apnoea and Blood Stagnation
Blood Stagnation is another big subject. The idea behind it is foreign to Western medicine, although its effects are recognised. If Blood fails to circulate properly, then your tissues cannot be repaired properly.
There are many (bad) consequences of having Blood Stagnation. They include poor circulation, and stopping Qi moving as it should. This then prevents the Qi of your Lungs flowing properly, causing sleep apnea.
Blood Stagnation seldom cures itself and may need extensive treatment to ‘cure’.