In the Independent this Saturday, there was an article titled “Insomniacs ‘should be given therapy not sleeping pills’“.
The article reveals research that one in four people in the UK have poor sleep and one in ten suffer from a sleep disorder. In the US, the problem is worse, with research finding that one in three suffer from insomnia.

This highlights a very common problem that is usually left untreated or is treated through sleeping pills. Often they create the desired effect and sleep is restored.

However, after a while, the ‘side effects’ of these pills (a misleading phrase to describe the new imbalances brought on by pharmaceutical drugs), such as drowsiness, dry mouth, constipation, headaches, tingling and numbness or heartburn, may or may not start to manifest. The reason that some manifest while others don’t is because of pre-existing health imbalances in the body. This is the great flaw in non-holistic treatment – while the symptom is noted and drugs prescribed to treat the symptom, the underlying root cause is left untreated, and so a dependency on the drugs develops to maintain the sleep. On top of that, many sleeping tablets, such as the group of drugs known as benzodiazepines (such as valium, a diazepam) are physically addictive.

The article in the Independent describes how Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) has proven highly effective to help with sleep disorders, and how, if many more medical practitioners were trained in the therapy, many more people would have access to natural, safe and effective treatment for sleep disorders. CBT is a talking therapy that explores the patient’s mental relationship with what is happening in his or her life. This is in many ways similar to Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP), which also helps with seeing patterns of thought that stop us from getting what we want and/or need. In fact, anyone focused on making the best use of the mind must engage in this practice.

A healthy adult is understood to need between 6-8 hours sleep a day to allow the body to process all the information of the day, sort through it all to get rid of unnecessary information, and to allow the body and conscious mind to rest and recharge.

The Independent’s article also highlights that, although depression and anxiety are now more commonly treated with CBT by GPs in their surgeries, insomniacs are not afforded the same privilege: whilst over £3million has been spent on research into CBT for insomnia, it is generally ignored in favour of drugs, with 12 million prescriptions for sleeping tablets last year in the UK alone.

Acupuncture is another therapy that can have great success in correcting sleep imbalances, as it directly tackles the internal imbalances that lie at the root of the poor sleep, as it is a body therapy that also affects the mind, and a skilled acupuncturist will furthermore help you correct any limiting beliefs and behaviours.

Types of sleep imbalance

There are several ways in which our night’s sleep can be disturbed:

difficulty getting off to sleep (either lying awake with nothing in the mind, or an overactive mind that goes round in circles without resolution)

waking in the night, breaking up the ability to go into deep sleep (either from nightmares, physical pain, needing to urinate, or for no discernable reason); perhaps returning straight to sleep, but also lying awake with a still or an overactive mind

waking early (normally about 5am) without being able to return to sleep

finding getting up in the morning a real struggle

In Chinese medicine, these all have implications for internal imbalances in the vital organs and the relationships between the organs. For example, the overactivity of the mind when asleep shows an imbalance in the Spleen, whereas a need to get up to go to the loo several times a night shows an imbalance in the Kidneys, and difficulty getting out of bed an imbalance of the Stomach.

Research released yesterday demonstrates how acupuncture, in particular 2 acupoints (called Amnian 1 & 2) behind the ear that are commonly used for sleep problems, enhances Slow Wave Sleep (SWS), more commonly referred to as ‘deep sleep’.

And in dealing with your sleep problems through acupuncture, you will find that other aspects of life also come into balance, as the treatment is applied at a root level as well as at the level of symptoms.


restful sleep!

Self help for insomnia

There are also, in the absence of a doctor or therapist, several things that are understood to help people with insomnia:

go to sleep and wake up at regular times;

this helps programme sleep into the diurnal (daily) rhythms, so that the body will naturally get ready for sleep at ‘sleeping time’ and wake at ‘waking time’

make your bedroom for sleeping;

one of the most useful pieces of advice one of my acupuncture patients was given at the London Sleep Clinic was to get up if you don’t fall asleep after 20 minutes. This is because we start associating the bedroom with a lack of sleep, rather than sleep, so we can reset this simple mechanism by getting up and out of the bedroom, and getting on with some other activity until we feel tired again.

take more exercise;

exercise helps the blood and energy flow in the body so any tensions from the day are more likely to be relieved, and when the body is exhausted, sleep is obviously easier

cut out stimulants such as tea and coffee, particularly in the few hours before bed

eat supper early;

the body takes roughly 4 hours to digest food, so we should be eating our last meal at least 4 hours before we go to bed, so that when we go to sleep, the body does not have to compromise between digestion and sleep. In Chinese medicine there is the phrase “Breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince, supper like a pauper”, a very wise saying.

relax before going to bed;

take a warm bath, practise some qigong, tai chi, yoga or meditation, or listen to some relaxing music