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    Insomnia is a sleep disorder characterised by an inability to sleep and/or to remain asleep for a reasonable period during the night. Sufferers typically complain of being unable to close their eyes for more than a few minutes at a time, or of 'tossing and turning' through the night.

    If insomnia continues for more than a few nights running, it can become chronic and cause a sleep deficit that is extremely detrimental to the sufferer's well-being. Insomnia interrupts the natural sleep cycle, which can be hard to restore. Some insomniacs unwittingly perpetuate their complaint by napping in the late afternoon or early evening, leading to wakefulness at bedtime and more insomnia. Others push their bodies to the limits, until their sleep deficit causes severe physical and mental effects.

    Many people who feel they are suffering from insomnia may actually have a lower physical need for sleep than they believe they do. A normal part of the ageing process is to sleep more lightly and for shorter periods of time, and some elderly people toss and turn in bed late at night or early in the morning when their body has no physical need for more rest, because they believe that they must 'need' a certain amount of sleep to be rested.

    Insomnia is a common side-effect of some medications, and it can also be caused by stress, emotional upheaval, physical or mental illness, dietary allergy and poor sleep hygiene. Insomnia is a major symptom of mania in people with bipolar disorder, and it can also be a sign of hyper-thyroidism, depression, or other physical complaints with stimulating effects.

    Additionally, a rare genetic condition can cause a prion based, permanent and eventually fatal form of insomnia called Fatal Familial Insomnia.

    Western treatments

    Many insomniacs rely on sleeping tablets and other sedatives to try to get some rest. The most commonly used class of hypnotics prescribed for insomnia are the benzodiazepines. This would include drugs such as diazepam, lorazepam, nitrazepam and midazolam.

    Traditional Chinese Medicine

    Traditional Chinese medicine practitioners have been treating insomnia sufferers for thousands of years.

    A typical approach may utilize acupuncture, dietary and lifestyle analysis, herbology and other techniques, with the goal of rebalancing the body's energies to resolve the problem at a subtle level.

    Insomnia is often caused by emotional or psychic disturbances. Anxiety and anger make the Liver depressed, and the depressed Liver Qi may be transformed into fire, which interferes with the normal functions of the Heart. Excessive anxiety may also impair the Heart (mind) and the Spleen, and insomnia occurs due to inadequate supply of nutrients and blood to the Heart.

    In the aged and the patients suffering from chronic diseases, Qi and blood are insufficient to nourish the Heart, thus leading to palpitations and insomnia. Qi deficiency may also involve the Heart and the Gallbladder, impairing one's sleep and making one vulnerable to fright. Consumption of Kidney essence may break down the normal balance between the Heart and the Kidneys, and in coordination between the Heart and the Kidneys may also be manifested as insomnia.

    Cures for Insomnia

    Warm milk contains high levels of tryptophan, a natural sedative. Lavender oil and other relaxing essential oils may also be used to help induce a state of restfulness.

    Some traditional 'cures' for insomnia involve drinking warm milk before bedtime, taking a warm bath in the evening, exercising vigorously for half an hour in the afternoon, eating a large lunch, then a light evening meal at least three hours before bed, avoiding mentally stimulating activities in the evening hours, and paradoxically, making sure to get up early in the morning and to retire to bed at a reasonable hour.

    Others use herbs such as valerian, chamomile, lavender, hops, and/or passion-flower.

    Although from Western medicine perspective these cures asa well as acupuncture and Chinese herbology seem “unscientific, many of these 'cures' are sufficient to break the insomnia cycle without the need for (or dependance of ) sedatives and sleeping tablets.

    Given the fact the insomnia can be a deficiency or excess symptom, in order to treat this it is necessary a TCM differential diagnostic and TCM practitioner assistance.




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