18 Jan 2014

Insomnia: Sleep Better with Acupuncture and Herbs

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Chinese Medicine for Insomnia

The subject of sleep has been coming up recently; clients are asking about the value of sleeping pills, how to fall asleep and stay asleep, and how to have a better quality of sleep. They wonder if my training in Chinese medicine can help them. Yes, it can!

I believe that we have to treat sleep like exercise and diet.  It is essential to pay attention to it and manage it for the sake of health and longevity.  Lack of sleep may lead to mood disorders, anxiety, dementia, and may even cause overeating.  Optimal functioning of almost every bodily system requires sleep.

Prescription medications, while helpful on an occasional short-term basis, can have unwanted consequences that include the rebound effect, where sleep becomes worse after stopping the medication.  So it is worthwhile to work with exercise, relaxation, and natural herbal approaches before going this route.


The Chinese have a long history of acupuncture protocols for assisting people with sleep:  names such as “Calm the Mind” or “Settle the Ethereal Soul” suggest the way that acupuncture has supported sleep for centuries. We now know that acupuncture supports melatonin levels. Melatonin is a hormone produced in the brain by the pineal gland; it doesn’t induce sleep but opens the gates for sleep to happen. It triggers drowsiness at about 9:00 p.m., which is an excellent time to begin preparing for sleep.

Tips for Insomnia

Unfortunately many of us are in front of one screen or another in the evenings, either working on a computer or possibly watching some disturbing news coverage or crime show. Anything along that line that disturbs us will activate our adrenals and cause difficulty falling asleep or inhibit restful sleep. The adrenals pump out cortisol and epinephrine, both of which cause that proverbial “second wind” and override the calming effects of melatonin. So we really have to back away from screens, computers, and other electronic devices sooner than we may wish.

A recent study in Taiwan found that people who listened to soft, slow music at bed time “experienced physical changes that aided restful sleep, such as lower heart and respiration rates.”  Regular yoga sessions have been reported to contribute to better quality of sleep, as well.

Other tips include using the bed for sleeping only, not for working or watching television.  Allow four hours between exercising and sleeping, and leaving a three-hour window between eating and sleeping is very important.  Caffeine, nicotine, and alcohol can cause poor, fragmented sleep.  Again, avoiding them at least four hours before bedtime is conducive to sounder sleep. Sleeping in too hot an environment can be difficult, with 65 degrees or cooler considered to be optimal.

Herbs for Insomnia

Chinese herbs may help in the transition away from sleeping pills and in the direction of finding your own natural sleep rhythm.  The “Calm zzzzzzzz”  formula from Evergreen herbs is excellent, and I am always happy to discuss this subject with you.  Let’s be sure that we talk about it before 9:00 p.m., however!   Sleep well, my friends.

About the Author

Janet Barrows has a Master of Science in Oriental Medicine (MSOM) from the Acupuncture and Integrative Medicine College in Berkeley, CA. She is a California State Licensed Acupuncturist (L. Ac.) practicing acupuncture in Santa Rosa, CA. Her practice includes acupuncture, natural herbs, facial rejuvenation, nutrition, and medical qigong.