Case Studies: Natural Cures for Insomnia

| September/October 2001

In my clinic, I’ve worked with patients who were literally desperate to get a good night’s sleep. Trouble falling asleep and waking up in the middle of the night, sometimes several times, is a common symptom of chronic underlying organ imbalances. Short-term acute symptoms of insomnia (the inability to sleep fully or be refreshed by sleep) are often a result of the accumulation of tension in the mind and body during the day. Unresolved interpersonal or inner conflicts, worry and pressure at work may all result in sleeping problems.

Different types of insomnia

I had two patients with different varieties of insomnia and with different causes behind their sleep troubles. Nicole was twenty-four and full of energy. She came into the clinic because she had bouts of energetic bursts interspersed with depression and a seeming inability to get a good night’s sleep for several weeks. She consumed a lot of sugar and caffeinated beverages.

Richard’s case was more complicated and of much longer standing. At forty-five, he had seen several doctors and tried different medications, but he still could not sleep regularly. He had intense headaches and some emotional instability—his wife called me several days after I met him to tell me that Richard would sometimes wake in the night in a cold sweat and sit upright with his eyes wide open.

With all patients, and especially complicated cases, I first apply the eight principles of Chinese medicine, which are reflected in the following questions: Is the pathological process (disease-causing agent or influence) acting on the surface of the body or deep within? Is the process involved with a depletion or surplus of either vital energy or vital substances such as hormones? Are the active processes of the body too cranked up or too slow? Are the body and its processes too hot or too cold? Asking these questions, and observing the general health habits of the patient, their genetic makeup, and reading what the pulse and tongue have to say, the practitioner tries to understand the processes in each individual that lead to the symptoms of poor sleep.

For Nicole, most of the pathology was on the surface. Her tongue was fairly normal, except for a red tip, which generally shows a lot of nervous system activity. Richard’s imbalances had penetrated much more deeply, into his internal organs. He showed severe depletion of “kidney yin.” The kidney system in Chinese medicine generally relates to the hormonal system, whereas the yin substances involve the fluids of the body such as actual hormones, neurotransmitters, and enzymes. This kind of depletion normally results from years of pushing ourselves beyond the limits of our normal resources—for instance, with caffeine and sugar, among other factors.

The difference in programs between the two patients reflects the emphasis of a traditional system of medicine focusing on the differences between people, rather than overemphasizing symptoms. Experience has shown me that the former approach is often more effective—not necessarily for quickly eliminating symptoms, but for achieving longer-lasting results and for supporting the health of the patient, which invariably leads to a better quality of life.

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