Insomnia and Chinese Medicine | 8 tips to help you sleep better
Ka Hang Leoungk | Acupuncture at The Hale Clinic

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25 February to 3 March 2013 was Acupunture Awareness Week in the UK, a time to spread awareness of the benefits of acupuncture, the concepts and theories behind traditional acupuncture and also promotes the work of The British Acupuncture Council (BAcC) in educating the public. As acupuncture becomes more popular, the uninitiated will become more curious so if someone you know has questions or concerns about it why don’t you share your own experiences, good and bad, with them? Or tell them to get in touch with me and I will try to help.
This year’s topic for Acupuncture Awareness Week was about sleep problems and insomnia as well as how acupuncture can help with relaxation.

Sleep and Traditional Chinese Medicine

Most adults sleep 7 to 8 hours per night and insomnia describes a variety of symptoms including inability to sleep, difficulty falling asleep, restlessness at night, frequent waking and dream disturbed sleep. The first thing to determine when it comes to insomnia is whether it’s true insomnia or if it’s due to external or temporary changes such as outside noise or inappropriate temperature changes. Broadly speaking there are three main reasons for sleeping issues:
Stress - Most people today live and work and play much harder than those from two generations ago. As a consequence, many of us are like TVs left on standby; we’re never switched off completely. Inevitable, fatigue and discomfort will set in as a result of the lack of sleep.
Discomfort or dysfunction - Some people naturally tend to sleep less; older people don’t need as much sleep as teenagers. However some people cannot physically sleep for any length of time due to pain, or physical discomfort. There are others who find themselves being woken up by a full bladder (or the feeling of a full bladder). Waking up 2 – 5 times or more a night is going to play havoc with your sleep patterns, and if you’re not getting enough rest… Well it’s obvious that you’ll wake up worse in the morning and the problem will exacerbate.
Insomnia - Then there are those unlucky ones who can’t sleep for any obvious reasons. They don’t feel particularly stressed (although if you live and function in today’s hectic lifestyle, you are bound to be stressed; you may not notice it but every time you rush to get onto the tube on your commute to work or get stuck in a traffic jam, your body is registering it as a stress factor) and they’re not being woken up in pain. They lie there listening to that extremely loud internal grandfather clock with its swinging pendulum. The more they think about sleep, the less chance they’ll ever get of having it.
You may be surprised to hear that many times insomnia in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) is not considered an illness but a symptom. At its very simplest insomnia, like many other health conditions, is due to the imbalance of yin and yang. Imagine a see-saw with one side heavier than the other – too much yin or yang will affect the system your body is trying to maintain and regulate. However this imbalance affects sleep more than some other conditions because of the catch-22 effect. The more your sleep is disrupted, the harder it is for your body to have the correct balance of yin and yang.

Yin and yang is just a way for acupuncturists to describe the complex balancing act of all the functions in the body that’s needed to keep order. Stress in your life affecting insomnia isn’t considered true insomnia in the strictest term because if you can remove the stress, then sleep should naturally return to its natural order. However long-term stress in the body affects other things besides sleep, such as digestion, skin, and a change in mood. When the body has to send help to different parts of the body, it can stretch itself too thin thus affecting the see-saw even more.
Acupuncture is the little weight that we can add to the see-saw, sometimes taking it from one side to the other. Acupuncture aids the body until it can find its own homeostasis.

What can you do yourself if you have sleep problems? In addition to acupuncture try these eight tips to help you sleep:
1.  Establish a regular relaxing bedtime routine.  Try to avoid emotionally upsetting conversations and activities before trying to go to sleep. Don't dwell on, or bring your problems to bed. I have this playlist of songs that I play every night right before I go to bed. It doesn’t even have to be relaxing instrumental style music (although heavy metal probably won’t be much help) but the idea is that I now associate this list of songs as bedtime, think of it as an adult bedtime story routine. Sometimes I only listen to two songs, other times it takes almost 40 minutes before I go brush my teeth but I find that it helps me get in the right frame of mind.
2.  Don’t exercise at night. The rush of endorphins may feel great and your body is thankful that you’re being active and healthy, but it won’t help you sleep. However a relaxing exercise, like yoga, can be done before bed to help initiate a restful night's sleep.
3.  Make sure your bed is comfortable. Buy the best quality mattress you can find. Low back pain keeping you awake is bad, but a springy mattress digging into your sides keeping you awake is your own fault. Invest in a good pillow as well. The objective is to sleep AND wake up feeling rested, not haggard because you’ve spent all night tossing and turning.
4.  Avoid stimulants such as caffeine, nicotine, and alcohol too close to bedtime. While alcohol is well known to speed the onset of sleep, it disrupts sleep as the body metabolizes the alcohol, causing arousal.
5.  In terms of Chinese medicine, you should avoid foods “warm” or “hot” in nature like hot spices, coffee, garlic, onions and lamb. This will help support your acupuncture treatment. As with everything else nothing is permanent so discuss your diet with your acupuncturist, there is rarely a type of food where you should always eat or not eat.
6.  Don’t look at the clock when you wake up in the middle of the night. It’s dark and your alarm clock hasn’t gone off yet so you know it’s still sleep time. Finding out whether it’s 2am or 5am doesn’t make a difference and could set off the anxious feeling of panic where you start counting down the hours of sleep available before you have to get up. Get rid of that anxiety, it doesn’t help the situation.
7.  Don’t have three large glasses of water before bedtime if a full bladder is waking you up at night. However if you find yourself not drinking anything from 8pm and you don’t go to bed till midnight, then it’s worthwhile to tell your doctor or acupuncturist. A few sessions of acupuncture could really help the problem.
8.  Many wish that they could sleep as soon as their head hits the pillow but if you need to read beforehand then don’t fight it. Everyone is different and I think reading is better than laying there wide awake for hours. Try moisturising your hands (or get someone else to rub them for you!) either as part of your bedtime routine or if you wake up and can’t get back to sleep right away.

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If you enjoyed this, then be sure to visit the blog The Happy Acupuncturist to read more articles, tips and health news.

What does 200 calories look like?

I must confess I’m not really a calorie-counter, I think it’s much better to approach food with a more natural attitude. Counting calories to me is the exact opposite of the “food as medicine” concept of Chinese medicine which also states that we should eat to be 70% full. However it can be helpful to see what a 200 calorie serving of different types of food looks like. Click here to see the pictures, it may surprise you. 


If you have been kind enough to refer someone to me – I want to say a big THANK YOU. That is the highest compliment and it’s warmly appreciated every time.

Other news: The British Acupuncture Council gets accredited by the Professional Standards Authority (PSA)

The British Acupuncture Council (BAcC), the professional body that I belong to, is now accredited by the Professional Standards Authority (PSA). As one of only two organisations currently accredited (along with the British Association of Counseling and Psychotherapy), this is a new scheme set up by the Department of Health and administered by an independent body which is accountable to Parliament. Click here to read more about this and other news.

And finally...

An elderly sea otter suffers from arthritis in the elbows and he's been trained to throw a small ball through a hoop for exercise.  Watch  this video to see the cute otter score some points.

That's all for this month 

As always, you can email me at about anything you’ve read here, and please do share this with your friends and family.

Happy March!
Ka Hang
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