Insomnia according to Chinese Medicine

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In Chinese Medicine, insomnia can be associated with five so-called "patterns of disharmony". Chinese Medicine sees the body as a system, not a sum of isolated parts. A "pattern" is when the system's harmony is disrupted. It is not equivalent to the Western concept of "disease", as a matter of fact here insomnia can be caused by five different patterns.

To understand whether someone's insomnia might be caused by a given pattern, one needs to look for signs and symptoms associated with the pattern beyond what one might typically experience from insomnia alone. For instance when insomnia is caused by the pattern Qi Stagnation in Gallbladder and Stomach with Phlegm Heat, patients also experience symptoms such as nausea or vomiting, dizziness or vertigo, dream disturbed sleep with strange or unusual dreams and palpitations. Similarly, patients with Qi Stagnation in Gallbladder and Stomach with Phlegm Heat typically exhibit slippery (Hua) or wiry (Xian) pulses as well as a tongue with yellow coating.

We've listed below a description of the five patterns associated with insomnia so that you can start to get an understanding of the various possibilities according to Chinese Medicine.

Once identified, patterns are often treated using herbal formulas. Drinking herbal infusions is the most common remedy in Chinese Medicine, together with acupuncture. Here we detail below five formulas that can help treat the various patterns associated with insomnia, depending on which pattern fits your profile.

The five "patterns of disharmony" associated with insomnia

The Bladder is a so-called "Fu" Organ. Learn more about the Bladder in Chinese Medicine

Qi Stagnation in Gallbladder and Stomach with Phlegm Heat

Insomnia might be due to Qi Stagnation in Gallbladder and Stomach with Phlegm Heat if the condition is paired with typical pattern symptoms such as nausea or vomiting, dizziness or vertigo, dream disturbed sleep with strange or unusual dreams and palpitations. Similarly, patients with Qi Stagnation in Gallbladder and Stomach with Phlegm Heat typically exhibit slippery (Hua) or wiry (Xian) pulses as well as a tongue with yellow coating.

Read more about Qi Stagnation in Gallbladder and Stomach with Phlegm Heat here

The Lungs is a so-called "Zang" Organ. Learn more about the Lungs in Chinese Medicine

Phlegm Heat in the Lungs

Pulse type(s): Rapid (Shu), Slippery (Hua)

Tongue coating: Sticky coating, Yellow coating

Tongue shape: Swollen

Recommended herbal formula: Xiao Xian Xiong Tang

Symptoms: Clump Phlegm Chest pain Constipation Epigastric pain Clumping in the chest Bitter taste in the mouth Epigastric focal distention Focal distention of the chest Coughing of copious thick yellow sputum

Insomnia might be due to Phlegm Heat in the Lungs if the condition is paired with typical pattern symptoms such as constipation, bitter taste in the mouth, coughing of copious thick yellow sputum and chest pain. Similarly, patients with Phlegm Heat in the Lungs typically exhibit rapid (Shu) or slippery (Hua) pulses as well as a tongue with sticky coating, yellow coating.

Read more about Phlegm Heat in the Lungs here

The Spleen is a so-called "Zang" Organ. Learn more about the Spleen in Chinese Medicine

Heart and Spleen Deficiency

Pulse type(s): Fine (Xi)

Tongue coating: Thin white coating

Tongue color: Pale

Recommended herbal formula: Gui Pi Tang

Symptoms: Fatigue Anxiety Insomnia Menorrhagia Palpitations Forgetfulness Poor appetite Pale complexion Abnormal uterine bleeding

Insomnia might be due to Heart and Spleen Deficiency if the condition is paired with typical pattern symptoms such as forgetfulness, palpitations, insomnia and fatigue. Similarly, patients with Heart and Spleen Deficiency typically exhibit fine (Xi) pulses as well as a pale tongue with thin white coating.

Read more about Heart and Spleen Deficiency here

The Kidneys is a so-called "Zang" Organ. Learn more about the Kidneys in Chinese Medicine

Deficiency of the Liver and Kidney Yin

Insomnia might be due to Deficiency of the Liver and Kidney Yin if the condition is paired with typical pattern symptoms such as sore knees, soreness and weakness in the lower back, weak knees and dry mouth.

Read more about Deficiency of the Liver and Kidney Yin here

The Liver is a so-called "Zang" Organ. Learn more about the Liver in Chinese Medicine

Liver Wind agitating Internally due to Liver Yang Rising

Insomnia might be due to Liver Wind agitating Internally due to Liver Yang Rising if the condition is paired with typical pattern symptoms such as headaches, dizziness, vertigo and tinnitus. Similarly, patients with Liver Wind agitating Internally due to Liver Yang Rising typically exhibit rapid (Shu) or wiry (Xian) pulses as well as a red tongue.

Read more about Liver Wind agitating Internally due to Liver Yang Rising here

The five herbal formulas that might help with insomnia

Wen Dan Tang

Source date: 1174 AD

Number of ingredients: 8 herbs

Key actions: Clears Hot-Phlegm. Clears Gallbladder heat. Regulates Qi. Harmonizes the Stomach.

Why might Wen Dan Tang help with insomnia?

Because it is a formula often recommended to help treat Qi Stagnation in Gallbladder and Stomach with Phlegm Heat, a pattern sometimes associated with insomnia. If it looks like you might suffer from Qi Stagnation in Gallbladder and Stomach with Phlegm Heat, this formula might help (although please seek confirmation with a professional practitioner beforehand).

Read more about Wen Dan Tang here

Xiao Xian Xiong Tang

Source date: 220 AD

Number of ingredients: 3 herbs

Key actions: Clears Heat. Transforms Phlegm. Expands the chest. Dissipates clumps.

Why might Xiao Xian Xiong Tang help with insomnia?

Because it is a formula often recommended to help treat Phlegm Heat in the Lungs, a pattern sometimes associated with insomnia. If it looks like you might suffer from Phlegm Heat in the Lungs, this formula might help (although please seek confirmation with a professional practitioner beforehand).

Read more about Xiao Xian Xiong Tang here

Gui Pi Tang

Source date: 1529 AD

Number of ingredients: 12 herbs

Key actions: Tonifies and nourish Qi and Blood. Tonifies Heart and Spleen.

Why might Gui Pi Tang help with insomnia?

Because it is a formula often recommended to help treat Heart and Spleen Deficiency, a pattern sometimes associated with insomnia. If it looks like you might suffer from Heart and Spleen Deficiency, this formula might help (although please seek confirmation with a professional practitioner beforehand).

Read more about Gui Pi Tang here

Er Zhi Wan

Source date: 1534 AD

Number of ingredients: 2 herbs

Key actions: Nourishes Liver Yin. Nourishes Kidney Yin.

Why might Er Zhi Wan help with insomnia?

Because it is a formula often recommended to help treat Deficiency of the Liver and Kidney Yin, a pattern sometimes associated with insomnia. If it looks like you might suffer from Deficiency of the Liver and Kidney Yin, this formula might help (although please seek confirmation with a professional practitioner beforehand).

Read more about Er Zhi Wan here

Tian Ma Gou Teng Yin

Source date: 1958 AD

Number of ingredients: 11 herbs

Key actions: Calms the Liver. Extinguishes wind. Invigorates the blood. Clears heat. Tonifies the Liver and Kidneys.

Why might Tian Ma Gou Teng Yin help with insomnia?

Because it is a formula often recommended to help treat Liver Wind agitating Internally due to Liver Yang Rising, a pattern sometimes associated with insomnia. If it looks like you might suffer from Liver Wind agitating Internally due to Liver Yang Rising, this formula might help (although please seek confirmation with a professional practitioner beforehand).

Read more about Tian Ma Gou Teng Yin here