The Treatment of Insomnia and Sleep Disorders With Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine

Insomnia and Sleep Disorders are treated successfully by Acupuncture, Chinese Herbal Medicine, Nei Gung or Mindfulness Practice, and the development of good Sleep Culture. This is so important, because one of the foundations of health is good sleep. Good sleep is so important to our health that here is even an old adage in Chinese Medicine that summarizes just how much easier it is to treat any disease if there is already good sleep (and good digestion). It runs as follows:

“Good Sleep, Good Digestion, Good Prognosis”

Now comes this report about this book by sleep scientist Matthew Walker of UC Berkeley’s Center for Human Sleep Science that documents, from the Science perspective, just  why lack of sleep so detrimental to our health.

In fact, insufficient sleep is “associated with elevated risk for all manner of diseases from Cancer and Heart Attack to Alzheimers.”

Its quite telling that two of the reasons he gives for lack of sleep in our culture are anxiety, and the way in which the need for sleep can become associated with weakness and lack of productivity. Its often the relentless pace of work in the developed world, in particular in the USA, that leads to poor Sleep Culture, and the inability to separate the daytime from the night, or, in Chinese terms, Yang from Yin.

Insomnia and Sleep Disorders in Chinese Medicine: The Conscious Mind and Unconscious Mind

In my 24 years of treating insomnia and sleep disorders in San Diego, I have noticed that all systems of medicine, from Western BioMedicine to Ayurveda and Chinese Medicine, treat sleep disorders the very same way they treat anxiety–with medicines that are calming and relaxing. This is true whether the patient is feeling noticabley anxious or not.

How does Chinese medicine explain the link between insomnia and anxiety, worry, overthinking, and that non-specific term, stress?

Chinese Medicine understand that during the normal waking state our conscious mind, the Shen, Hun, and Po, is interacting, constantly, with both the outer world, via the 6 senses, and our inner world, via our memory, thoughts, feelings, and sense of self. This is what being awake is.

The Cave of the Heart

Chinese Medicine understands that for sleep to occur this very same conscious mind that rambles about during waking hours has to make itself scarce.  Being asleep and being conscious are the exact opposite in normal life. (Lucid dreaming is an exception..and to be sure we can retain a sense of self in our dreams). To be exact, our conscious mind that pings back and forth between inner and outer worlds at night  has to return to its home, the cave of the heart, or Shen, and “go to sleep.” But in order to do that, in order to go to sleep, the cave of the heart has to be empty. If our Shen-Heart-Mind is full, whether with fear, anger, worry, tension, wind, heat, fire, or cold, there is no place for our conscious mind in that cave to lie down. It remains standing and we remain awake.

But if our heart is empty,  another words peaceful and calm, then the conscious mind goes on hiatus. And that is when the subconscious and unconscious minds take over.That is why we can have weird colorful dreams that range from pleasurable wish fulfillment (eating ice cream and having sex) to terrifying nightmares (giving a speech and your pants fall down, being caught in a tsunami).

It is also why people with certain kinds of physical, sexual, and emotional trauma are afraid of sleep. If the trauma remains unprocessed then the idea of losing control and opening to the unconscious is really scary. Its also why some people have chronic night terrors and nightmares.

How Chinese Medicine Explains Insomnia and Sleep Disorders

The Heart is the seat of consciousness. It is likened to a cave. We can only fall asleep when the cave is empty, that is, when the mind is calm.

In Chinese medicine the seat of consciousness is the Heart. This is not the physical heart only. Its an elegant paradigm that describes what consciousness is. It collects thinking, feeling, sensing, dreaming, remembering, all under a single rubric, Shen, the Chinese word for consciousness, and also the physical heart.

We know of course that all cognitive function and memory is a function of the neurons in our brain. Yet, we don’t feel emotions in our brain, but in our body.

We feel our emotions in the area of our heart far more than anywhere else, though we do feel various emotions in specific locations–anger makes our jaw, neck, and shoulders tighten, and causes us to lose our appetite if severe enough, for example.

When the cave of our Heart becomes filled by a gamut of emotions, from anxiety and fear (lying awake all night before an exam) to frustration and anger (tossing and turning all night after a fight with your spouse) there is no place for Shen, or Consciousness, that has been moving about while awake, to return to and turn off.

You can’t fall asleep when your mind is busy thinking of what you have to do tomorrow, what you will do in three weeks, or what happened last year. This is why we sometimes get insomnia right before an exciting trip.

Indeed, the Chinese character for Heart includes the image of a Cave. We can only fall asleep when the cave is empty, that is, when the mind is calm.


Treatment of Insomnia and Sleep Disorders with Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine


Acupuncture for Insomnia and Sleep Disorders

Acupuncture treatment is very important in treating insomnia and sleep disorders because Acupuncture affects the nervous system directly, and its the nervous system that is the root of sleep disorders. In broad strokes we need to calm the nervous system, but with acupuncture treatment is very specific to the type of insomnia or sleep disorder you present with.

We always choose acupuncture points from the Heart and Pericardium channels to Calm the Shen when treating insomnia. But we also have to evaluate underlying factors. Is there Liver Depression Qi Stagnation such as we see with insomnia related to frustration and anger at work or home? Is there Liver Depression with Heart Blood Stasis as you see in broken heartedness and certain emotional presentations such as with Borderline Personality Disorder. Is there Depressed Lung Qi as we see with insomnia related to unprocessed grief? Is the Kidney Yang weakness failing to restrain the Heart as we see with certain types of ADHD type insomnia, bedwetting,  BiPolar disorder, or even simply anxious nervous types?

Each of the above Patterns of Disharmony has particular acupuncture point combinations that your acupuncturist chooses based on her experience, education,  and style of practice. No two patients are the same, and no two cases of insomnia are identical. There are no single acupuncture points for insomnia and sleep disorder, there are acupuncture patterns of points, point combinations that work as a team to treat the complexity of each individual case.

Chinese Herbal Medicine for Insomnia and Sleep Disorders

Chinese medicine always looks for patterns. Patterns of behavior, patterns of pathology, patterns that promote good health. In treating disease we have to establish the unique pattern of disharmony causing your disease. As explained in the above paragraph on the acupuncture treatment of insomnia, there are a variety of patterns of disharmony that Chinese Medicine uses to describe insomnia.

Likewise, Chinese Herbal Medicine involves complex herbal prescriptions that address both the “chief complaint” in this case insomnia or sleep disorder, while at the same time addressing the causes of the chief complaint.

For example,

  • Insomnia and Sleep Disorder due to Menopause might include herbs that calm the spirit, stabilize the yin of the heart, astringe essence, nourish the yang of the kidney, and reverse energetic counterflow.
  • Insomnia and Sleep Disorders due to Anxiety might include herbs that calm the spirit, clear heat, nourish the yin and blood of the heart, remove blood stasis from the heart, and nourish kidney Qi
  • Insomnia due to Fever will involve herbs that clear heat, clear toxic heat,  and address and issues affecting the Lung such as drying phlegm from the lng
  • Insomnia with Sleep Disorders like Nightmares and Bedwetting will include herbs that Calm the Spirit, Astringe Essence, Nourish the Kidney Yang, and Restore the connection between Shen and Jing

Classical Pearls Chinese Herbs


One of my favorite Chinese Herbal Formulas for treating Insomnia and Sleep disorders due to a common pattern of  menopause and anxiety involving emptyness of the Heart Yin is Spirit Pearls, an updated Classical Chinese Herbal Medicine formula developed by Heiner Fruehaf, Ph.D. Besides really liking the herbal prescription itself, the great thing about Spirit Pearls and the rest of the Classical Pearls product line, is that this company

  1. Sources the highest quality botanically accurate Chinese Herbs. This ensures if it says Ginseng, you get Ginseng. Unscrupulous growers will sometimes plant a similar plant with a higher yield that looks like the correct herb but is not.
  2. Rigorously tests their formulas for heavy metal contamination and pesticide residue. Guaranteed free of pesticide, heavy metal, bacteria, and yeast.
  3. Ensures that all herbs are processed according to traditional methods–e.g. herbs are roasted, soaked, wine or vinegar fried according to classical methods. No chemical extraction, soaking in lye, no dyes.
  4. Manages all stages of the process, from growing to processing to production–


If you have any questions about your condition, please call me at 619-296-7591 or email



copyright eyton shalom san diego, ca september 2017 all rights reserved use with permission


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