These days, I can’t sleep because I have two young boys (Asher is 2 and a half, Boaz is 4 weeks) who sleep in the room with my wife Shiri and me. The hours are few and far between that don’t have one or the other of them in some stage of waking, and a recent twist is what Shiri and I have dubbed the “ping-pong-ping,” wherein Boaz cries to nurse – waking Asher, who then comes over to cuddle – waking Boaz, who cries – waking Asher, and so on.
Many other people have trouble sleeping, but for other reasons. Here is a quick breakdown of some of the causes of insomnia from an Chinese herbal medicine point of view. Keep in mind this is only a partial list!If you regularly have trouble sleeping, check this out and see which (if any) of these patterns sound familiar. Feel free to ask questions in the comments section below, and one of our herbalists will answer you as soon as possible.
1. Heart Qi and Spleen Blood Deficiency: This is one of the most common causes of insomnia in my experience. Some accompanying symptoms are palpitations, feeling forgetful, anxiety, pale skin, weakness or fatigue, and short menstrual periods for women. Remember, you don’t need to have all of these specific problems – it’s a general pattern of weakness and blood deficiency.
2. Heart Fire Blazing: In many ways this is the opposite problem. People with heart fire are excess in nature – they also have palpitations, but it’s usually accompanied by thirst, feeling agitated, feeling hot all the time, or mental restlessness. It can also include dark urine that may even be painful when it comes out. These are people who don’t sleep but don’t feel tired, and can’t seem to “wind down.” If you have chronic UTI and insomnia, this is almost definitely you.
3. Kidney and Heart Not Harmonized: This is a pattern based on the really interesting relationship between the kidneys (the organ of water) and the heart (the organ of fire). One way to put it is that the kidneys are not making enough water to keep the heart’s fire in place. That’ll make more sense when I publish my next blog post explaining the elements in Chinese medicine and their relationship to the organs. The accompanying signs for this pattern are: palpitations, restlessness, anxiety, poor memory, ringing in the ears, dry throat only at night, sweating at night, and here’s a weird one: heat coming just from the palms of the hands and the soles of the feet.
4. Liver Yang Rising: This is insomnia that comes with headache at the temples or behind the eyes, and sometimes dizziness, irritability, stiff neck, and a tendency to outbursts of anger. You see that the first 3 all mention the Heart in the title. That’s because ultimately insomnia is a problem of the Heart from a Chinese herbal point of view, so most of the time the pattern directly involves the Heart. I included this pattern because it shows that sometimes, even though the symptom you want treated is still coming from the Heart, you actually have to fix a different organ (in this case the Liver) in order to make the Heart better. If you find yourself regularly taking medications (herbal or otherwise) and nothing seems to work for your insomnia, this may be the reason – you are too focused on the symptom, and not the actual problem.
5. Food Stasis: This one isn’t quite as common, but I threw it in just to show the range of issues that can lead to insomnia. This is usually an acute problem, after eating too much or eating poorly (Thanksgiving anyone?!!?). It comes with fullness and pain in the abdomen, nausea, sour fluid in the mouth, belching, and loose stools. Usually goes away on it’s own, and it’s your body’s way of telling you to slow down!
I could easily have included at least 5 more patterns, but this is already a lot of information to digest. Look out for my next post, which will explain the elements of Chinese medicine and their relation to the organs.