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Natural Insomnia Relief
By Rebecca Hindman, L.Ac.
True Nature Acupuncture
Austin acupuncturist, Austin, Texas

Frieda recently came to me because she has been suffering from insomnia for several years. Sometimes she couldn’t fall asleep and other times she would wake up worrying and couldn’t get back to sleep. Her frustration levels escalated when she looked at the clock to find that it was almost time to get out of bed.

She tried both over the counter and prescription sleeping pills and found that she still didn’t feel rested and as if she was “in a fog” the entire next day. Stress aggravated her insomnia and caused other symptoms. Between her stress levels and conjoining lack of sleep, her whole system was “out of sorts”.

If you empathize with Frieda’s situation, you are not alone. Today over 30 million Americans suffer from insomnia while 1 in 3 have insomnia at some point in their lifetimes. Over half of the people are loosing sleep because of stress and a significant number of insomniacs suffer from depression. Twice the number of women deal with insomnia than men. Sleep deprivation has also been linked to weight gain* and the health risks associated with being overweight.

Big picture wise, the standard American lifestyle plays a large role in the high incidence of insomnia. Why is that? America’s achievement driven culture leaves little room for important down time. I know several people who work 60-90 per week. On top of that, they are having to fulfill family obligations during the down times. It’s no wonder that the parasympathetic nervous system (who’s job it is to rest and digest) never has the opportunity to calm the body.

In Chinese medicine, yang (activity) and yin (resting) are balancing principles. Yang is activity, sun, fire, warmth, exertion, joy, brightness and everything associated with daytime and waking activities. Yin is associated with resting, being, stress reduction, water, nighttime, restoration and yes, deep sleep. When these are out of balance people tend to experience other health problems which can include insomnia. In regards to yin and yang theory, our culture’s emphasis is mostly on action while neglecting resting and being.

Fortunately, there are several steps we can take to create more balance, lower our stress levels, and helps us to get more deep and nourishing sleep.

Deep relaxation
We often crawl into bed with a tired body and a busy mind. Meditation and deep relaxation techniques synchronize the body and mind so that the mind can slow down at night as well.

One simple meditation technique is to take 21 very deep breaths when you lay down. Imagine the breath filling your entire body from the bottoms of your feet to the crown of your head with each inhalation. With the out breath, imagine the breath emptying your body completely.

Yoga offers several deeply relaxing techniques involving certain postures combined with deep breathing. Some of these postures or “asanas” are shoulder stand, childs pose, and corpse pose.

In Chinese Medicine there are several forms of insomnia which can involve any combination of energetics of certain organs, some form of internal stagnation or possibly a pattern of deficiency. These imbalances are unique to the patient and are considered to be different types of insomnia. For example if a patient is having difficulty falling asleep at the end of a long day, this would be considered a heart deficiency pattern and the acupuncture would be geared towards nourishing the heart.

There are several other types which could involve the Liver, Gall Bladder, Spleen and Stomach. All of these patterns are treatable with acupuncture. Some patients experience immediate relief from insomnia. For longer term results, patients typically come in for 4-6 weekly sessions and the acupuncturist and patient reassess the patient’s progress. Acupuncture helps correct the underlying problem behind their insomnia as well as restoring the overall health of the patient.

Calcium/magnesium - This combination aids sleep because calcium acts as a muscle relaxant, while magnesium calms the nervous system. Taken alone, calcium can be difficult to absorb while magnesium enables it’s absorption.

Melatonin - This naturally occurring hormone is produced by the pineal gland and helps you to regulate your sleep. As people age, their production of melatonin decreases which can in turn throw off their circadian rhythms. Taking melatonin a half an hour before bedtime can restore the sleep cycle rhythms.

Valerian - found both in Europe and Central Asia, valerian has been used for both insomnia and anxiety.

Kava kava - A shrub plant found in the pacific islands, kava has been used as a sedative for both insomnia and anxiety and as a social and ceremonial drink.

Chinese herbal formulas including Suan Zao Ren Tang, Gui Pi Tang, and Tian Wan Bu Xin Dan - Each of these formulas are for a specific type of insomnia associated with different organ systems of the body. The benefit of using Chinese Herbal formula is that they are a nuanced approach to addressing your specific case of insomnia.

Good nutrition
Emphasize whole organic foods which are high in fiber (whole grains), antioxidants (dark leafy green vegetables, green tea, gou gi berries, dark berries), and essential fatty acids (walnuts, flax seeds, salmon).

Avoid caffeine from coffee, sodas, and chocolate which negatively impacts the nervous system. Also stay away from refined carbohydrates like white sugar and white flour (even white rice) which can compromise your ability to regulate glucose and can promote inflammation.

Transitioning into yin time
If you have difficulty winding down at the end of the day, create an evening routine 30 minutes before going to bed. Some of these can include turning bright lights off, turning off the television, making the space quiet, setting the next day’s clothes out or a few minutes of one of the deep relaxation techniques mentioned above. Whatever it is, it needs to feel settling to you. A person I know finds knitting to be very relaxing, so that could be a good one for her.

Even if you have no problems with your sleep, acupuncture, deep relaxation techniques, healthful nutrition and pre-bedtime routine are nourishing ‘yin’ activities that can benefit anybody living in our active ‘yang’ culture. By consistently using one or more of the above approaches, you will find an improvement in your overall health in addition to deeper sleep. For optimum results using supplements, herbs and acupuncture contact your professional practitioner of Chinese Medicine today!

*Sleep deprivation has been shown to lower leptin levels, the hormone that signals to your body that you are no longer hungry.

**Consult with your health care professional before beginning supplements or herbs to ensure that it is appropriate for your case and that there are no interactions with what you might already be taking.

Rebecca Hindman serves greater Austin with the natural therapy of Chinese Medicine. Sign up to receive a free e-book to learn more about how Chinese Medicine can help your journey to optimal health.

Are you ready to take control of your health?
Call us at 512.363.2756 with any questions or to schedule a free 30 minute health assessment.

  Rebecca Hindman, Central Austin acupuncture and Chinese herbal clinic


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True Nature Acupuncture
2520 Longview Drive, Suite 313, Austin, Texas 78705
512-363-2756 -


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