Anyone who has ever had a restless night in bed, spent hours looking at the clock or counting sheep, can legitimately complain of insomnia. Sometimes it happens for obvious reasons, and other times we're at a loss to explain why.
According to the theory of acupuncture and Oriental medicine, an imbalance of the heart organ often plays a role when it comes to disturbances and interruptions of our sleep. It might sound strange to link the heart with insomnia, but the following will help explain.
It is believed that the shen, also called spirit or mind, lives in the heart and returns there to rest every night while we sleep. The concept of shen refers to the cognitive functions, mental health and the overall vitality of a person. The spirit finds sanctuary and rejuvenation in a healthy heart when the emotions and the physical body are equanimous. This ensures an undisturbed, good night's rest. However, when the shen is 'disturbed', it cannot find its way home and is said to wander. When this is the case, symptoms of insomnia may arise.
There are many reasons why the shen may be forced to wander. The heart is a delicate organ that is vulnerable to pathological heat. An example of a condition involving the heart 'being harassed' by heat, is called heart yin deficiency. Yin is a cooling, quiet, feminine energy. It is likened to the hidden world of the yet-to-sprout seed, or the unborn baby still in the womb. As heart yin lessens and dries up, it leaves room for yang to take advantage and expand. Yang being a moving, active, masculine force, will create a condition of excess heat in the heart. This makes the heart inhospitable to the spirit.
There will usually be a manifestation of other symptoms confirming a case of insomnia due to heart yin deficiency. These signs and symptoms may include anxiety, mental agitation, poor memory, night sweats and a dry mouth. It is interesting to note that this patient may be able to fall asleep without a problem, but will wake up frequently in the middle of the night. In this case, a practitioner of acupuncture and Oriental medicine may need to build up and nourish yin in an effort to cool down the heart.
Another patient who also complains of insomnia, anxiety and poor memory, may receive an entirely different acupuncture treatment. This patient has the additional symptoms of a pale complexion, dizziness, and reports that once asleep, the quality of sleep is heavily dream-disturbed. This patient does not wake up refreshed. In contrast to the first patient, this person suffers from insomnia due to heart blood deficiency. Treatment with acupuncture is necessary to tonify and bulk up the heart blood. By doing this, the shen will find the heart a more comfortable home.
A testament to the ability of acupuncture and Oriental medicine to treat various types of insomnia is found within a study entitled Acupuncture for the Treatment of Insomnia: A Systematic Review of Randomized Controlled Trials, printed in the November 2009 edition of the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine. This study synthesized the results of 46 separate clinical trials that involved nearly 4,000 patients. The main symptoms reported by patients were trouble falling asleep and an overall poor quality of sleep.
The researchers choose to highlight the differences between the groups receiving real acupuncture treatments versus other groups being treated by different means. The other categories of patients included those receiving no treatment at all, those treated with sham acupuncture and those being treated with pharmaceutical drugs. When the results from all these groups were compared to the acupuncture group, researchers concluded the patients treated with real acupuncture showed a stronger improvement in certain symptoms of insomnia.
If you wake up and still don't feel refreshed because you can't drift off peacefully, or you never seem to fall into a nice, deep sleep, it might be time to consult your practitioner of acupuncture and Oriental medicine.
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About the Author: Vanessa Vogel Batt, L.Ac., MSTOM, studied at the Pacific College of Oriental Medicine, and practiced acupuncture and Oriental medicine in New York for several years. Vanessa enjoys traveling the world, and has published articles on acupuncture and Oriental medicine and related health topics for websites and publications in both the U.S. and abroad.