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Chinese Medicine Basics & Sleep Issues

There are many factors that can impact the quality of our sleep. In Chinese medicine, issues arising from an imbalance in the body, excess stress, or a lack of nourishment are often causes of sleep trouble. Insomnia and other sleep conditions can also be secondary to other conditions, like menopause, hormone imbalances, pain, and others.

Yin and Yang imbalance
Yin and yang must be in balance for the body to stay healthy. When they fall out of balance illness can occur. For some, this imbalance first affects sleep. For those with excess yang or not enough yin, the result tends towards insomnia or dream-disturbed sleep. The opposite problem (too much yin or insufficient yang) leads to somnolence, excess fatigue, lethargy, and drowsiness.

Chronic stress
Stress causes a host of health issues but may be most commonly associated with poor sleep. Stress and anxiety can prevent us from falling asleep or may wake us in the night. Over time, ongoing stress leads to hormone imbalance and a pattern of poor sleep.

Major Organ Systems in Chinese Medicine & Healthy Sleep:

Chinese medicine considers the Heart the home of the “shen” (our spirit, or mind) at night. To fall asleep, our shen must retreat into the Heart which allows for our unconscious sleep state. With an undernourished or irritated Heart system, the shen cannot retreat and we lay awake.

The Liver is often involved in sleep issues that involve stress or imbalanced emotions. Excessive drinking can also cause Liver-related sleep issues.

Common Insomnia Treatments in Chinese Medicine

In Chinese medicine, insomnia is very much a mind-body disorder. To combat the sleepless nights, a combination of herbal medicine, acupuncture, and diet and lifestyle change are recommended. Acupuncture is used to reduce stress, calm the mind, and encourage a healthy circadian rhythm. It can also be helpful to address other underlying issues (like pain, hot flashes, anxiety, or digestive upset) causing the sleep disturbance. Diets rich in spicy or heavy foods can often cause sleep issues. Alcohol should be minimized. Exercise is also a helpful daily habit for encouraging a restful night.

Chinese Herbal Formulas for Insomnia and Sleep Conditions

Chinese herbal medicine has a long track record of helping people sleep peacefully. Some of the earliest formulas for insomnia were written by the classical herbalist Zhang Zhong Jing around 210 AD. Today, many ancient formulas and their modern adaptations are used to help people overcome insomnia, night sweats, fatigue, and excessive dreaming.

Suan Zao Ren Wan: This formula addresses insomnia, with anxiety, irritability, restlessness, night sweats, vertigo, and dry mouth or throat. (Clinician’s note: clears deficient heat and calms Shen)

An Mien Pian: This formula clears heat, settles the Heart, and calms Shen; recommended for those with insomnia, vivid dreaming that disturbs sleep, palpitations, anxiety, and stress.

An Shui Wan: This formula combines most of the main “Calm Shen” herbs in the Chinese pharmacopeia with herbs that gently nourish the body, move/redistribute qi, and sedate heat to help greatly with insomnia, anxiety, palpitations, and restlessness.

Special Chinese Herbs for Sleep

The following are important herbs used in our popular formulas for sleep conditions.

Suan zao ren/ Jujube seed: Suan zao ren is known as a heart-nourishing herb. This herb is the basis for several formulas that combat insomnia and nightmares.

Zhi zi/ Gardenia fruit: Zhi zi is a cooling and sedating herb that is used in formulas that treat insomnia with the presence of excess heat (hot flashes, night sweats, irritability, nightmares).

He huan pi/ Mimosa bark: He huan pi is a gentle herb that is used in many popular sleep formulas to calm and relax the mind and encourage rest.

Shop our Collection of Chinese Medicine Remedies for Insomnia & Sleep Problems

The quality of your health relies on the quality of your sleep. Thankfully, Chinese herbal medicine offers many powerful remedies for a range of sleep conditions. Shop our collection of Chinese herbal formulas that fight insomnia and ensure a restful night’s sleep.