What We Heal


Traditional Chinese doctors have been treating insomnia safely and effectively for tens of centuries.

I have been a professional practitioner of Chinese medicine for almost 10 years, and I have helped scores of Western patients cure or relive their insomnia. Chinese medicine cannot cure every disease, but when it comes to insomnia, Chinese medicine is the best alternative I know. When someone calls and says that insomnia is their major complaint, I know that, if they follow my advice, together we can cure or at least reduce their difficulty getting a good night’s sleep.

I will be able to share with you a number of self-help techniques which can minimize your discomfort and may very well help you break the cycle of insomnia.

What is insomnia?

According to The Merck Manual, the clinical Bible of Western MDs, insomnia refers to "Difficulty in sleeping, or disturbed sleep patterns leaving the perception of insufficient sleep." Insomnia is a common symptom and may be due to a number of emotional and physical disorders.

Types of insomnia

Western medicine recognizes that at least three types of insomnia. The first is called initial insomnia. This refers to difficulty falling asleep after having laid down at night. The person cannot enter sleep at night. This is commonly associated with emotional disturbances, such as anxiety, a phobic state, or depression. The second type of insomnia is called matitudinal insomnia or early morning awakening. The person is able to fall asleep, but then they wake up early in the morning, several hours before it is time to arise. Once awake, they then cannot fall back asleep. This pattern of early awakening is a common phenomenon of aging. However, even though it is common, it is nonetheless painful for its sufferers. In some cases, this type of insomnia may also be associated with depression. The third type of insomnia is called inverted sleep rhythm. If older patients with insomnia overuse sedative medications, they may be drowsy in the morning and doze all day. Then, when it comes time to sleep at night, they no longer feel tired, if the dose of sedatives is increased, the patient may feel restless, clouded, dazed, or confused at night. If they suspend their sedative medication, their insomnia tends to return full force.

Causes of insomnia

Some people just sleep less than others. When insomnia is longstanding with little apparent relationship to immediate physical or psychological occurrences, this is called primary insomnia. If insomnia is due to pain, anxiety, or depression, this is called secondary insomnia. In other words, the insomnia is secondary to some other factor in the person’s life. When insomnia is of relatively recent onset, it is usually due to current anxieties, such as marital strife, problems at work, financial troubles, or concern over one’s health. However, insomnia may follow a prolonged or extreme febrile (i.e., feverish) disease and may occur in women around the menses, after giving birth, or around or after menopause due to physical events associated with female physiology.

How Western medicine treats insomnia

When Western MD try to treat insomnia, they usually do so using a combination of nonspecific advice coupled with a prescription for one or more Western pharmaceutical. By nonspecific advice, I mean generic advice given to all sufferers of insomnia, such as getting more exercise, trying to relax, or drinking warm milk before bed. As we will see below, the Chinese doctor may also give the same advice but on an individualized basis. For some patients, getting more exercise may be good, while for others, it might aggravate their insomnia. Likewise, warm milk may help certain people sleep but worsen others’ restlessness at night. Therefore, Chinese doctors give very specific advice to each individual patient.

The Western medications most often prescribed for insomnia are called sedatives and hypnotics. Laypeople often refer to these as tranquilizers. Valium or Riazepam is probably the most often prescribed and best know of these. Unfortunately, all such drugs involve some risk of overdose and addiction. In addition, when discontinued, there are withdrawal symptom which can include the recurrence of insomnia. Further, because they are sedatives, it I important that persons taking these types of drugs not engage in any activity afterwards which requires mental alertness, judgment, or physical coordination, such as driving.

Some of the common adverse or unwanted side effects of sedatives and hypnotics are drowsiness, lethargy and "hangover." Less often, there can also be hives, nausea, and vomiting. Ironically, in older patients, any sedative may cause restlessness and overexcitement. It is also sad but true that many patients take higher doses than they should or will admit to, thus causing slurring of speech, lack of coordination, and shaking due overdose. And finally, sedatives are addicting in the same way that alcohol, opiates, antihistamines, and antidepressants are. Therefore, it is no wonder that many people are afraid or do not want to take sedatives.

Happily, Chinese medicine has a number of safe and effective, low cost and non-addictive alternatives which have been used in Asia for hundreds and thousands of years.

Some patients may be currently using Western sleep medications. These may be either over-the-counter nostrums or prescription sedatives and "tranquilizers." In general, it is not a good idea to discontinue such medication abruptly without checking with your Western physician. Your Western physician will be able to tell you whether or not you can stop taking a medication immediately or whether it needs to be tapered off at a certain schedule.

It is best if your Western MD and your Chinese medical practitioner can work hand in hand. Therefore, if you are currently taking any Western medication, whether prescription or over-the-counter, it is important to tell your Chinese medical practitioner what you are taking. In general, there is no problem with taking Western sedatives and tranquilizers with Chinese medicinals or at the same time as receiving acupuncture for insomnia. If anything, the Chinese medical treatment will make the Western medicines work better and with less side effects. What you should notice fairly quickly is that you need to take less and less of your Western medications to achieve the same or even better ability to go and stay asleep. Thus acupuncture and Chinese medicinals can actually help you get off Western sedatives and tranquilizers at the same time as addressing the root of your insomnia.