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Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine For Insomnia


     I know what you are feeling.  It is 2:00 in the morning and you need to be up by 7:00am.  You have been tossing and turning for hours.    You are frustrated and do not understand why you cannot sleep.  If you are reading this you are in the right place.  I totally understand.  Growing up my father had terrible insomnia.  He could not sleep past 1:00 in the morning.  At 1:00 every morning he would wake up.  With my help he has seen much much improvement in his sleep.  If you are looking for some decent sac time you should read on.  Hopefully you will find some of the information about acupuncture and Chinese medicine helpful.

     At my acupuncture office in Mamaroneck, New York patients come in for a wide array of complaints.  Everything ranging from Infertility and PMS to Fibromyalgia.  A complaint many of my clients share is insomnia.  Some have trouble falling asleep while others have trouble staying asleep.  Others just wake a little bit too early.  Sleep is one of the most important things we do as humans.  While sleeping our body repairs itself and re energizes.  Sleep plays an important role in immune function, metabolism, memory, learning and many other vital processes in the body.  So basically if you are not getting a good nights rest your body and mind will not function optimally.  That means anxiety, depression, weight gain. fatigue, easily catch colds, forgetfulness, lessened ability to deal with stress, chronic pain etc.  

      It does not matter what else is going on with their health.  If a patient is suffering from insomnia it needs to be addressed as part of the treatment plan.  Without a good nights rest it will be difficult to get big changes in other aspects of a persons health.

     From my time working as an acupuncturist in Manhattan, Queens and now in Mamaroneck, NY I have found there to be four or five main types of insomnia and each has their own cause. Some types of insomnia are greatly helped by diet and lifestyle while others require acupuncture, Chinese herbal medicine or tuina massage.  Many patients have a combination.

Stress Induced Insomnia

     The most common type of insomnia I see is from stress.  These patients are constantly moving.  Both physically and mentally.  They work long hours and have a lot going on in their personal lives.  They are constantly pushing themselves.  They also have neck tightness, jaw tightness, PMS, constipation, IBS plus other stress related conditions.  When they lay down to go bed their minds just do not shut off.  If they can fall asleep they are often restless.  These patients just need to learn how to relax.  It is actually not that difficult to treat this type of insomnia.  You may need to make some changes in life style.

Here are some suggestions:

  • First off, these clients need to avoid caffeine.  Coffee and tea.  For those that must have coffee it is best to drink it early in the morning or not at all.  
  • Avoid doing a lot of cardio exercise.  Running, heavy cycling etc. In my experience intense cardio will actually make the body more tense in the long run.  Best type of exercise would be walking in the park, yoga, swimming, meditation, dancing etc.  Something light that also allows for relaxation.  
  • Try to be in natural surroundings as much as possible. Walking in nature helps the body and mind calm down
  • Avoid too much visual stimulation before bed.  Especially television, smartphones, tablets etc.  All the stimulation will tell your brain it is time to be awake.  
  • These patients would also benefit from foot soaking before bed.   Click on the link to learn more. Some patients notice profound changes in sleep from foot soaking alone.

Poor digestive Health Leading to Insomnia

     This type is also fairly common.  I see this type with pregnant women suffering from nausea, children with weak digestion, people with chronic nausea, acid reflux etc.  These patients have poor eating habits and often have a poor diet.  From a Chinese Medicine perspective the digestive system and your mind and emotions are somewhat interrelated.  Western science is finally coming around to this idea with the discovery of the link between gut chemistry (digestive health) and brain chemistry.  This is a whole other topic and will be discussed in future posts.  For the purposes of this post if your digestive system is not settled your mind may have difficulty settling for sleep as well.  Any digestive symptom can be link to insomnia.  These include: constipation, loose stools, Crohns, Colitis, IBS, nausea, reflux etc.

For these patients I suggest:


  • Not eating too late at night and laying down with a full stomach.  This will disrupt digestion and make insomnia worse.
  • For very simple but profoundly helpful home remedies for digestive issues check out these other posts including “drink hot water for better health” and my post about “congee
  • Make sure you eat three meal a day and eat on a regular schedule.
  • Instead of sitting or laying down after a meal go for a short walk.  This will help your body digest your meal better.
  • Eat slowly and chew your food.
  • Shut off the television and do not look at your phone.  Just focus on eating.

Insomnia Caused by Being Overly Tired and physical weakness

     This type of insomnia is also quite common.  These patients are physically and mentally tired but they still have trouble falling asleep.  It may sound contradictory but this is quite common.  These patients also may suffer from anxiety, depression, chronic fatigue, weak digestion, poor immunity, fibromyalgia and many other chronic inflammatory diseases.  These patients need rest but it is difficult for them to sleep.  For many patients this can be very frustrating.  

For these patients I would suggest:

  • Mediation or some form of qigong.  Qigong is a form of therapeutic exercise originally from China.  Both qigong and meditation are great for helping the nervous system calm down and relax. Both practices make the physical body and mind stronger and more relaxed.
  • Foot soaking before bed.
  • Avoid caffeine or energy drinks/products including five hour energy, red bull, ginseng etc.  These things might give you extra energy during the day but will actually make your body more tired and weak over time which will lead to worsening of insomnia.  You need more energy.  The type of energy you get from a good nights sleep.
  • Moxibustion will also be very helpful for these patients.  Moxibustion is a form of heat therapy from China that would benefit this type of patient in two ways.  First moxibustion is great for fatigue and secondly it is somewhat sedative.  Many patients often say that after moxibustion treatment they feel very energetic but also very relaxed at the same time.  
  • Chinese herbal medicine may be necessary for these patients as well.

Insomnia Caused By Emotional Trauma

     This type is less common but I do see it in clinic.  Patients that have undergone severe emotional trauma may often have issues with insomnia after the traumatic event.  This may be physical abuse, emotional abuse, sexual abuse, post traumatic stress disorder in veterans, surviving some sort of catastrophic events etc.  These patients will often have other issues besides insomnia.  From a Chinese medicine perspective emotional trauma effects the physically body just as much as the mind of a patient.  The Chinese view the mind and body to one in the same and inseparable.  That means that we can use physical medicine to have an effect on the mind and emotions.  Some of the suggestions from above in the other categories may be helpful.  

For these patients I suggest:

  • First and foremost these patients should be under the care of a therapist.
  • Acupuncture, Chinese herbal medicine and tuina massage can all help the mind and body to process the physical and emotional trauma.  Some patients will have a cathartic experience with Chinese medicine.  This can be through crying, laughing etc.  As the patient works through the trauma their sleep should naturally start to normalize.

Insomnia Caused by Poor Feng Shui

     I can see your eyes rolling already.  In America we have a very superficial idea of what feng shui actually is.  It is more than design and putting Chinese trinkets around the home.  It is an ancient science that can have a profound effect on ones life, health, family etc.  In actuality feng shui traditionally is a part of Chinese Medicine.  A very powerful part of the medicine.  It started out as a way to choose proper sites for burial in ancient China.  I have seen some great things done with feng shui and we can save that for another post.  


Here are some simple feng shui tips for a good nights sleep:

  • Make sure your bedroom is clean and tidy.  
  • You should not have a mirror facing your bed.  If you can see yourself in the mirror while in bed this will cause insomnia.  Take the mirror down and see how you sleep.
  • Make sure your bed is in a good position.  Most important is that your bed is not in line with the door.  This is very important.  Check out this link for some good ideas for bedroom set up and some explanation on feng shui:
  • There is a lot more you can do but I am not a feng shui expert consult a feng shui expert if you think there is a problem.

     Ten years ago I realized how powerful feng shui could be.  I had a roommate that was having a lot of trouble sleeping.  I saw his bed was in line with the door.  I had him move his bed away from the door.  That night and going forward from there he slept perfectly fine.  If feng shui is the problem symptoms often change quickly.  Once you make the changes you should be able to sleep well almost immediately.

     The five types listed above are generally what I see most commonly and are not complicated by other health concerns.  I also see patients that cannot sleep because of pain, breathing difficulties or frequent urination, etc.  In these cases once the physical problem is corrected with acupuncture and Chinese medicine the sleep quality should improve as a result.

     Lastly, check with your doctor to make sure non of your medications are causing your insomnia.  Many pharmaceutical drugs have side effects.  Do your research on the medications you are taking and discuss them with your doctor.  Never discontinue taking any medication without discussing it with your doctor first.  

Acupuncture And Chinese medicine for Insomnia

     Acupuncture can be very helpful in the treatment of insomnia.  Many people that suffer from insomnia often feel it is difficult for them to relax.  One “side effect” of acupuncture is actually relaxation.  Acupuncture will help patients reach a state of mind that has some similarity to meditation.  It does not matter what is being treated.  Lower back pain, infertility etc.  Once the needles are inserted most patients will be able to relax rather deeply and some will fall asleep on the table.  Continued acupuncture treatment will help the body become more familiar with this feeling of relaxation and as a result falling asleep and staying asleep will become easier.  Chinese herbal medicine and tuina massage are often added to the treatment to deepen relaxation as well as improve sleep quality and to increase the effectiveness of treatment.


    As I said earlier some patients will fall into one category while others may fall into a few.  Try a few of my suggestions and see what happens. Hopefully you will find some of the information useful.  Do not lose hope. There is always an answer to help any condition.  Change takes time and sometimes it might take a little bit of time to see the changes you want.

    Aside from the lifestyle and dietary  changes acupuncture and Chinese medicine can greatly speed the process of healing and getting you some needed rest.  Give me a call today at (914) 772-4044 to make an appointment at the Mamaroneck office to discuss your health concerns and we can figure out the best plan of action for you.


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