Sleep disturbances come in many forms including difficulty falling asleep, inability to stay asleep, and restless sleep. Causes of insomnia include pain of any kind, neurological disorders, menopause, restless leg syndrome, cortisol imbalances, and emotional factors including stress. Read on below for further information.
Insomnia & Pain
In this case, pain is really the primary cause of sleeplessness and therefore the pain should be addressed first.
Isomnia & Restless Leg Syndrome
Restless Leg Syndrome (RLS) is not well understood, but is mainly characterized by an inability to control the legs during wake or sleep. It often presents during sleep hours and can cause a person to sleep restlessly or not at all. It is a relatively uncomfortable, though not life-threatening, condition. Several medications exist to treat RLS including Mirapex (a dopaminergic agent used for Parkinson’s Disease which increases dopamine). There are also several other classes of drugs used to help control this condition. Oftentimes, hip, knee, or lower leg surgery can exacerbate RLS symptoms.
Acupuncture can be very helpful in this condition for its ability to regulate the autonomic nervous system by calming the sympathetic nervous system (fight or flight) and stimulating the parasympathetic nervous system (rest & digest). Specifically acupuncture pts on the head as well as points on around the affects limb(s) can have a regulatory effect (calming) on the peripheral nerves of the legs and increase blood flow to the periphery thereby improving circulation.
Insomnia & Menopause
This is one of the most common symptoms of menopause. It should be determined if the waking is being caused by night sweats or other reasons. Commonly, waking occurs between 1-3 AM is characterized by a difficulty to fall back asleep. In this case, the underlying causes of menopause should be addressed. Acupuncture may be helpful is regulating hormonal imbalances, but usually some form of intervention is required to regulate sleep cycles including herbal and/or dietary supplements, and in some cases, hormone supplementation.
Insomnia and Cortisol Imbalance: The Circadian Release of Cortisol
Cortisol is released in a specific pattern during a 24-hour period. Cortisol (released by the adrenal cortex) Cortisol is released in order to unlock sugar stores in the body to feed the brain. Since sleeping is a fasting state, cortisol is at its highest in the morning as the body depletes its sources of sugar (glucose) during the night. Over the day, cortisol level naturally dip and in the evening melatonin kicks in causing us to feel sleepy.
This is a relatively complicated process, but to simplify, you can look at imbalance two ways. Usually patients that have adrenal hyperfunction will have spikes in the late evening when cortisol should be low and those that have adrenal exhaustion will have depressed cortisol in the morning when it should be high (source: Datis Kharazian, Func. Blood Chem Analysis, 2009). In both cases, supplementation with the right dietary supplements should be able to rectify the situation. Acupuncture further addresses the underlying causes of insomnia.
Insomnia & Stress
This type of sleeplessness is usually acute and the stressor is easily identifiable. Oftentimes there is stress associate with the workplace or family. When this stress becomes too acute, the mind becomes restless and attempts to ‘mentally process’ the situation to resolved it. Acupuncture calms the nervous system in general and dietary or herbal supplements can be used in lieu of medications to address the acute symptoms.
Insomnia from a Chinese Medicine Perspective
Chinese medicine looks at insomnia primarily as a heart or kidney disorder. It’s important to understand that this does not mean that there is actual problem the heart or kidney organs. Below are couple of TCM patterns associated with insomnia.
Kidney Yin Deficiency Kidney
Yin deficiency refers primarily to a depletion of one aspect of the kidneys (yin) and is associated with dehydration on a deeper level than just the amount of water in the system. It results from many years of menstruating (in the case of women) and from overwork (in both men and women) and from the normal aging process. Kidney yin deficiency can also be a primary diagnosis for the symptoms of menopause.
Heart Qi Deficiency
This refers to a primary weakness in the heart energy and is often associated with lack of a restful sleep.
Heart Blood Deficiency
This type of insomnia is characterized by a difficulty in falling asleep whereby the body does not have sufficient resources to keep the mind settled in the heart. So the mind wanders and a person will have difficulty falling asleep.