Insomnia in Chinese Medicine
There are many factors contributing to insomnia such as an unhealthy lifestyle, irregular sleeping habits, eating the wrong foods or eating too much, external disturbances, stress, psychological issues, illnesses or drug-related problems, etc. Western medicine uses vitamins, amino acids, and minerals such as magnesium and calcium for prevention. Sleeping pills, hormones and tranquilizers are commonly used to fight insomnia but they can be habit forming and are not addressing the root of the problem. They should only be used very briefly when absolutely necessary because prolonged usage can make the matter worse and create more health problems. The lack of genuine sleep can deprive the body of the critical body functions being performed at night and can lead to lower immunity, internal imbalances and organs malfunction.
To treat insomnia, it is necessary to treat the root of the problem. Eating too full at dinner or eating too late or eating the wrong foods such as coffee, tea, alcohol, spicy food and hard to digest food can all affect sleep and can be easily avoided. If it is due to external disturbances such as light, noise or electrical smog, etc.; follow the rules to make your bedroom a sleeping sanctuary so that you have the perfect conditions to induce sleep. Don’t under estimate the power of ear-plugs which can numb your senses and lower your guard effectively. They do work for easing anxiety too. If it is due to other illness such as digestive problems; treat the illness and sleep will return. If it is due to psychological reasons; try to peace your mind by meditation, relaxation exercise, journaling, music, hypnotherapy, etc. Exercising outdoor, such as jogging, can force you to breathe more deeply and with more oxygen intake, it can help to relax your mind and body. Sweating helps the body to expel toxin and therefore helps to release tension. Also, you will get tired after exercising which makes falling asleep easier.
When insomnia persists for a long period of time, it is important to focus on repairing the damages done to the body especially to the liver, kidney and heart. If the damages remain in-repaired over time, they can become both the causes and effects of insomnia and treatment will be more difficult.
According to science, food rich in L-tryptophan such as red meat, dairy products, nuts, seeds, bananas, soybeans, soy products, tuna, shellfish, and turkey can promote sleep because L-tryptophan is the essential amino acid that helps the body to produce serotonin and melatonin, the hormones that regulate sleep. Serotonin can also impact our mood, psychological health and behaviour. Serotonin is found in greatest concentration in our gut so it makes perfect sense to nourish our gut flora for optimal serotonin level to promote better sleep.
Calcium and Magnesium
Deficiencies of calcium and magnesium may cause easy waking. Dietary sources of magnesium include dried beans, soybeans, pumpkins seeds, wheat germ, almonds and leafy green vegetables such as spinach and Swiss chard. Calcium can be found in many different foods, including dairy products, fish, broccoli, almonds, dried figs, kelp, prunes, rhubarb, seaweed, soybeans, sesame seeds, watercress, dandelion greens, amaranth and chickweed. Taking a combined calcium-magnesium tablet 30 minutes before going to bed is helpful. Kiwi fruit is extremely high in calcium, taking 2 everyday will find great improvement in sleep quality. The enzyme in kiwi can calm gut swelling, also helpful in promoting sleep.
Sleep on Time
If you are fighting insomnia, you must firstly observe the proper sleeping hours. It is vitally important to be in bed and in complete rest between 11 p.m. to 6 a.m. even if you cannot sleep. This will enable blood to return to the liver for the important detoxification and renewal process. Staying up at night will draw blood away from the liver. It is equally important to be up in the morning and during the day so that the other yang bodily functions can be performed properly. When necessary, napping for half an hour during noon time can support the heart and provide energy for the rest of the day. Sleeping any longer during the day can disrupt sleep at night.
Chinese medicine regards sleep as number one priority for health and insomnia is most detrimental. For people who are not sleeping between 11 p.m. to 1 a.m., the gall bladder system is highly compromised. It can lead to gall bladder stones, weaker immune system, slower metabolic functions and general weakness. For people who are not sleeping between 1 a.m. to 3 a.m., the important liver functions of detoxifying and replenishing blood are disrupted. Blood deficiency can lead to many illnesses such as premature aging, osteoporosis, blood related diseases and women diseases, etc. When the liver is weakened, it cannot support the other vital organs properly and can lead to stomach and spleen deficiencies, kidney deficiencies, heart deficiencies and lung deficiencies. There is also higher chance of getting liver related diseases such as hepatitis, high cholesterol and eyes diseases.
Chinese medicine treatments are to reinforce qi, replenish blood, nourish yin, clear liver fire, remove stagnant energy, harmonize stomach energy, and calm the nerve and mind. Chinese herbal remedies are necessary to control adverse symptoms and to rectify imbalances. Herbal medicines are non-hypnotic in nature and are not habit forming. Once adverse symptoms are under control, nutritional food therapy will be used to help the body to recover and regain its original functions.
Food cures such as dates, wheat, longan fruit, lily flower and egg yolk are commonly used for nourishing the heart, promoting yin and calming the mind. Seafood such as oysters, clams, fish, shrimp and eel, are high in zinc and copper and are good for calming the nerve and easing anxiety. Oatmeal, sweet potato, banana and tomato are good for promoting sleep. Cherries are naturally high in melatonin. Eating eight ounces of cherries in the morning and eight ounces at night consecutively for two weeks can help to restore sleep. Lemon-scented mint tea is sleep-inducing because it improve digestion and decreased agitation.
Calming the Gut
Our gut is like our second brain which can be easily affected by our mind and emotion. Calming the gut can help to quiet the mind. If a restless mind is keeping you awake, eat a light carbohydrate snack right before sleep such as whole grain cereals with organic milk, bread, biscuits or an organic yogurt with good bacteria can be helpful. The key is to combine carbs with a protein containing tryptophan to help your body better utilize the sleep inducer. If you need this remedy in the middle of the night, make sure you are not turning on any light which can affect your melatonin level.
Calming & Balancing Congee Recipe
Restless sleep due to anxiety and over worrying, pale looking, lack of energy, loose bowel or occasional palpitation of the heart.
Calms nerves, enriches blood, removes dampness and fire, improves spleen and kidney health, and promotes yang energy of the heart.
Ingredients (2 to 3 servings)
- Job’s Tears / Coix Lacryma-Jobi (yi yi ren) 薏米 – 30gm
- Little red bean 赤小豆 – 30gm
- Longan Fruit (long yan rou) 桂圆 /龍眼肉 – 30gm
- Chinese Jujube / red dates (da zao) 大枣 – 4 to 6
- Lotus Seeds (lien zi) 莲子 – 30gm
- Dried lily bulb / Bulbus Lilii (bai he) 百合 – 30gm
- Rice – half cup
- Sugar – to taste
- Soak all herbal ingredients for about 15 minutes and rinse.
- Rinse rice and put all ingredients in a pot with about 6 to 8 cups of water. Bring to a boil and lower heat to medium to cook for about 45 minutes to about 3 cups of congee.
- Add some sugar if prefer. Eat as meal.
No restrictions. Most suitable for teens and seniors.