What is Insomnia?

Insomnia leads to daytime tiredness, irritability, depression or anxiety, reduced mental alertness and concentration, increased errors or accidents as well as ongoing worries about sleep. Insomnia could be due to causes like travel or work schedule, eating too much late in the evening, irregular bedtime schedule, stress, caffeine, nicotine, alcohol, drugs like certain antidepressants, and medications for asthma or blood pressure. Other medical conditions may also cause insomnia which include anxiety disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder, chronic pain, cancer, diabetes, heart disease, asthma, gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), overactive thyroid, Parkinson's disease, Alzheimer's disease and sleep apnoea. Chronic insomnia are more likely to be associated with medical conditions or the use of certain drugs. Treating the medical condition may help improve sleep.

What is TCM Treatment Principles for Insomnia?

From a TCM perspective, insomnia is regarded as one of the signs of an internal disharmony. , The problem should not be identified alone, as it involves a range of internal changes, which then give rise to various manifestations. It can be a manifestation of heart disharmony, accumulated heat (fire pathogens), weakened spleen and heart, spleen and stomach disorders, and so on. Based on the clinical information, TCM practitioners could diagnose the pattern of disharmony and formulate a suitable treatment plan for the patients. Common type of insomnia include:

1. Fire syndrome caused by liver stagnation

  • Difficulty falling asleep, nightmares, or unable to go to sleep at all
  • Irritability, bloodshot eyes, headache, bitter taste in the mouth, thirst, poor appetite, yellowish urine and constipation


2.  Fire syndrome caused by yin deficiency

  • Difficult falling asleep, restless sleep, or all-night wakefulness
  • Absent-mindedness, palpitations, feverish sensations in the chest, palms and soles, dizziness, ear ringing, night sweating, soreness in the waist and knees, nocturnal emission, menstrual problems and mouth dryness


3. Phlegm-heat harassment

  • Difficulty falling asleep, shallow sleep and frequent waking. The sleep problems are usually caused by an improper diet
  • Absent-mindedness, palpitations, feverish sensations in the chest, palms and soles, dizziness, ear ringing, night sweating, soreness in the waist and knees, nocturnal emission, menstrual problems and mouth dryness


4. Deficiencies of the heart and spleen

  • Dream-disturbed sleep, easily awakened from sleep, difficulty going back to sleep or early awakening
  • Feelings of annoyance, heaviness in the head, blurred vision, chest tightness, excessive throat secretions, nausea, loss of appetite and belching


5. Deficiencies of the heart and gallbladder

  • Dream-disturbed sleep, sudden awakening due to fear
  • Timidity, palpitations, being easily frightened, breath shortness, low spirits, fatigue, perspire easily, clear and profuse urine


TCM practitioners aim at resuming harmonious function of the diseased organs, ensuring normal supply of the fundamental substances so as to rebalance the body. Click here to learn more about TCM treatments. 

What Is TCM Diet for Promoting Sleep?

TCM thinks that insomnia always accompanied with heart disharmony. Foods that nourish the heart therefore help calm the mind and sleeping. They include jujube seed, mulberry, lotus seed, and lily bulb. Stressful people with liver stagnation can be relieved by foods like tangerines, jasmine, chrysanthemum, and rose bud. Prolonged stress may exhaust the vital energy of the body and cause deficiencies in different organs which may worsen insomnia. Foods like angelica root, wolfberry, carrot, spinach, red dates, ginseng and longan aril help replenish the storage of vital energy. Other than the foods, eating habit is also an important factor affecting sleeping quality. First, eating too much or too late can delay the emptying of the stomach leading to physical discomfort during sleep. Therefore, evening meal should be light and finished 3 hours before bedtime. Second, people with digestive problem should limit the amount of heavy, oily and spicy foods. Third, you should limit the consumption of coffee, cola, tea, sodas and chocolate, especially in the late afternoon and evening. Lastly, you should reduce the amount of liquids after dinner, especially alcohol, as this may lead to less restful sleep and frequent awakening.

Acupressure Points Help Relieve Insomnia

Acupressure is mainly based on theories of acupuncture meridians. TCM practitioners use the fingers to strike, press, knead and pinch to stimulate the acupoints along the meridians and promote the flow of energy inside the body. There are some acupressure techniques that targets specific situations. For overly excited mind, you may nip and knead the bone process behind the lower auricle; then nip and grasp the palm web between the thumb and index finger; then nip and grasp the web between the big toe and second toe. For people with fatigue, you may knead the outer nail corner of the little finger. Then, you may knead the inner side of the wrist. After that, you may straighten the knees and hold the knee back with the hands, and knead the inferior and lateral portion of the knee with the thumbs. Lastly, you may rub on the dorsum of the foot in the depression between the 1st and 2nd toe. For people with too light sleep, you may knead the front of the forearm, 2-finger-breadths above the midline of the wrist. Then you may knead the centre of the palm and pinch around the nail of the big toe.

Last Updated: July 2020
Please note that all medical health articles featured on our website have been reviewed by Quality Healthcare doctors. The articles are for general information only and are not medical opinions nor should the contents be used to replace the need for personal consultation with a qualified health professional on the reader’s medical condition.