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January 4, 2011

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Traditional medicine take on treating insomnia

ONE out of three adults suffers from insomnia. Lack of sleep appears in many forms - difficulty in falling asleep, waking up early or at specific times, or sleep disturbed dreams and nightmares.

As a consequence of not sleeping well, people feel tired and erratic, they have a decreased aptitude for problem solving and decision making. They also suffer from muscle stiffness and headaches.

Good sleep is a sign of good health - insomnia is an indicator that there is something wrong inside the body. Additionally, lack of sleep can also cause serious health problems (depression, anxiety disorders, immune deficiency) when it has been ignored for a long time.

In Western medicine, sleeplessness is associated with emotional distress. Therefore, doctors often recommend the reduction of stress and prescribe sleeping pills or anti-depressants.

According to traditional Chinese medicine, insomnia tells of a dysfunction or an imbalance in the body.

It is often connected to a yin/yang interchange disorder mostly located in the heart and liver.

Insomnia is divided in "true insomnia" and "transitory insomnia." The latter is often caused temporarily by eating too late, noises, coffee or even TV.

True insomnia has a specific cause in the body, either an irregularity in the flow of the substances (qi or blood) or an imbalance in one organ or between organs.

Some simplified patterns of insomnia:

? Difficulty in falling asleep

Many patients who are having problems falling asleep have a liver fire or heart fire, which make them restless, overexcited and overactive.

? Waking up too early

Usually a cause of waking up early is a heart/spleen deficiency. This deficiency is often accompanied by the symptoms of fatigue, poor concentration, excessive worry or even depression.

? Waking up at specific times during the night

The body's energy or qi circulates through the organs on a 24-hour rhythm. The time at which a person regularly wakes up identifies the organ that is related to that particular sleeplessness.

According to the TCM clock, these are:

11pm-1am, gall bladder

1am-3am, liver

3am-5am, lungs

5am-7am, large intestine

? Sleep disturbed by dreams

Having nightmares often points to a disorder in the gall bladder. Recurring dreams indicate an imbalance in heart/spleen.

Identifying a patient's particular insomnia pattern requires extensive examination. Please consult a TCM practitioner for the exact identification of your insomnia pattern and the right TCM treatment (acupuncture and/or herbal remedies) to cure your inability to sleep.

If you want to improve the quality of your sleep, here are some general tips:

? Stick to fixed bed times and wake-up times (getting an average 8 hours of sleep).

? Exercise regularly - outdoors, if possible.

? Avoid stimulation before bedtime (TV, coffee).

? Don't try too hard to fall asleep and learn to relax (meditation).

? If you wake up at night, stay in bed and don't get up.

(Doris Rathgeber is the founder of Body & Soul Medical Clinics.)

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