Trouble sleeping? You’re not alone

You’ve been tossing and turning for what seems like hours, but just can’t seem to fall asleep. And when you do, you don’t stay asleep.

There are few things that are more frustrating than beginning each day exhausted. Studies show that a chronic lack of sleep not only impairs cognitive abilities and physical performance but also increases the risk of heart disease and diabetes. It takes a toll on both mental health and general well-being.

Just ask 47-year-old Sally*, who faced a lot of stress at work and would wake up during the night – and then struggle to fall back to sleep. Besides mood swings and anxiety, she also found herself with high blood pressure and high cholesterol levels.

After three months of counting the hours to dawn, she turned to Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). While Eu Yan Sang Physician Jeffrey Ong could do little to change her work circumstances, a prescription of herbal medication meant she was sleeping easier after just a week, and felt more energetic during the day.

While individual prescriptions differ, her prescription included Jia Wei Xiao Yao San, Sour Jujube Seed, Poria Radix, Poria, Dragon’s Fossil, Oyster Shell and Senega Root, all of which help calm the mind, explains Physician Ong.

After a month, she was sleeping through the night at least five days a week.

Eluded by sleep

A 2013 global survey by Regus, a provider of flexible workplaces, found that globally, one in three people face some kind of sleep issue. This was based on interviews with more than 24,000 businessmen and women from over 90 countries, and served to highlight that flexible working could reduce commuting and improve quality of life. In the United States alone, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC estimates that over seventy million people suffer from some type of sleep disorder.

At Eu Yan Sang TCM clinics in Singapore, about four in 10 patients experience sleeplessness either as a primary or secondary problem. Some have problems not with the quantity but quality of sleep, and are unable to slip into rapid eye movement (REM) or ‘dream’ sleep, which is considered by doctors to be essential for rejuvenation and wellbeing, better memory function, and better cognitive ability.

The blame lands on both extrinsic and intrinsic factors, including modern living and high levels of stress, shift work, related heath or mental problems and, most recently, genetics – scientists have linked seven genes as ‘risk factor’ genes for difficulty falling or staying asleep. Sleep issues can also be brought on by substance abuse.
TCM practitioners believe that sleeplessness or being unable to sleep through the night indicates a dysfunction or imbalance within the body, in the heart, liver, spleen, kidney or gallbladder, in particular. Trouble falling asleep could, for example, be an indication of excess heat in the liver and/or gall bladder. The tendency to wake up and not be able to fall back to sleep could indicate deficiencies in the heart, while being woken by nightmares is associated with a gall bladder meridian disorder.

Other symptoms can also point to spleen and heart deficiencies, including forgetfulness, poor concentration and appetite, and a tendency to tire easily. These can coincide with sleep issues.

A TCM practitioner explores both physical and lifestyle factors to identify the root cause of insomnia, and then designs a treatment plan that, ideally, brings on the zzzs.

Bring about quick relief

Both acupuncture and herbal medication can be effective in treating insomnia. Acupuncture - targeting, for example, the 申脉 (Shen Mai) and 照海 (Zhao Hai) points, and helps to stimulate the flow of qi. This relaxes the body and mind, promoting sleep.
Chinese herbal treatments commonly include Sour Jujube Seed, which nourishes the liver and qi, calms the mind and helps with the management of physical symptoms brought about by stress. Gui pi wan, which contains Codonopsis Root, Astragalus Root, Licorice Root, Poria, Senega Root, Sour Jujube Seed, Longan, Chinese Angelica Root, Costus Root and Red Dates, and is taken in pill form, is also good for nourishing the spleen, heart and blood, as well as calming the mind.
The combination of acupuncture and herbal medicine, properly administered, can bring relief in just days, says Physician Ong.

This was the case for Madam Joyce* (not her real name), 76, who struggled with falling and staying asleep and, as a result, suffered from frequent headaches and a stiff neck during the day. She took sleeping pills to help her sleep.
Bearing in mind other symptoms, including headaches, irritability and a flushed appearance, Physician Ong suspected that she had “liver fire” due to the stagnation of qi in the liver. She was advised to undergo four weeks of acupuncture and herbal treatments, and slept much better.

While acupuncture can help, it is important to bear in mind that it is not always suitable, for example, for those who are pregnant, especially weak, or those who fear needles, Physician Ong says.

This is where massage on the acupuncture points (tui na) affecting sleep patterns may be a better option, though he warns that in the case of women who are pregnant, some acupoints must be avoided. For the other groups, cupping, which warms up the meridians and improves the circulation of both qi and blood, could also be considered, he says.

Poor sleep, poor health

Constantly getting too little or bad quality sleep can have serious consequences, Physician Ong warns. In extreme cases, it could develop into Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, a debilitating lack of energy that makes even simple tasks impossible.

In the long run, a lack of sleep can also affect health and longevity, and lead to high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, obesity and mental health issues. In the case of women who are pregnant, it is believed that sleep deprivation could affect the development of the baby.

It is very important that those who suffer from insomnia to seek treatment, whether from a TCM physician or traditional western doctor, says Physician Ong, adding: “Whether you have a sleep disorder, or your sleeplessness is symptomatic of other issues, seeking help can prevent it from developing into anything more serious.”




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