How to Treat Insomnia with Traditional Chinese Medicine

By: Bill Schoenbart & Ellen Shefi

Insomnia can occur as a result of excess conditions such as liver fire, heart fire, and food stagnation. It is also a symptom of deficiency, especially heart yin, blood, or qi deficiency. Although treatment for these conditions varies, most cases respond well to variations of Emperor's Tea since it has nourishing sedatives along with herbs that clear heat. A number of effective remedies for insomnia are available in the form of patent medicines, including Emperor's Tea, An Mien Pien, and An Shen Bu Xin Wan. When insomnia occurs, lifestyle changes also help. As bedtime approaches, avoid stimulation by turning off most of the lights and staying away from televisions or computers. Going to bed either too full or too hungry can also disturb sleep patterns. Too many sweet foods or caffeinated beverages may also cause insomnia.

The possible treatment options for insomnia vary greatly, depending on the severity of the condition. Certain acupuncture points have strong sedating qualities, such as points on the wrist (Heart 7) and ear, both of which are named "Spirit Gate," as well as a point between the eyebrows (Yintang). When these points are needled, the brain releases natural opiates; the patient frequently falls asleep and wakes feeling relaxed and refreshed.


Receiving an acupuncture treatment late in the day reduces stress and promotes restful sleep.

Chronic insomnia requires herbal therapy that addresses the underlying condition, often consisting of herbs from the category of "substances that nourish the heart and calm the spirit."

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Bill Schoenbart has been practicing traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) since 1991, when he earned a Masters degree in TCM. He teaches TCM medical theory and herbalism at an acupuncture school in California, and also maintains a clinical practice.

Ellen Shefi is a licensed massage technician, licensed acupuncturist, and registered dietician. She is a member of the American Association of Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine, the American Herb Association, and the Oregon Acupuncture Association.