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You settle into a warm, comfortable bed, close your eyes and nothing happens, you just can’t fall asleep. Hours go by and still you’re awake. The next day you feel tired, grouchy, and are unable to focus. Does this sound familiar?

Sleepless nights happen to almost everyone at some time, but ongoing insomnia can indicate a deeper issue and could lead to further health concerns. Unfortunately, a common approach to treating insomnia includes prescription sleeping medications, which can cause side effects or even dependence. That’s one of the many reasons to consider an all-natural approach to treating your sleep problems. Acupuncture and functional medicine  can be a very effective ways to improve your sleep quality without side effects.

Tips for healthy sleep
  • Stick to a regular schedule.
  • Plan to go to bed and wake up at the same time every day.
  • Stay active. Exercise regularly, but not within a few hours of bedtime.
  • Don’t eat large meals before bed.
  • Try not to nap. If you really need to nap, try to keep it short, less than 45 minutes.
  • Limit caffeine, alcohol, and nicotine. All of these can add to sleep problems.
  • Relax. Try taking a warm bath, meditating, or reading to wind down before going to sleep.

One bad night…or an ongoing issue?

Occasional insomnia is a very common problem, affecting about one in four Americans. It can happen to anyone, but is more common in older adults. Its symptoms include:

  • Difficulty falling asleep
  • Waking up during the night
  • Waking up too early
  • Daytime fatigue and irritability
  • Frustration and moodiness

Insomnia can be very frustrating, but it’s more than an annoyance. When insomnia becomes ongoing, or chronic, your body is unable to get the rest and renewal it needs so that you can feel your best. In fact, a lack of quality sleep can cause problems such as difficulty concentrating, diminished energy, low mood, and trouble performing everyday tasks. Since sleep strengthens the immune system, insomnia can leave you susceptible to many other health concerns. Luckily, you don’t have to just “put up with” chronic insomnia.

How Functional Medicine Can Help

Insomnia and the Hormonal System:

Adrenal hormones regulate our 24 hour biological clock, or circadian rhythm. If this natural rhythm is disrupted, people experience sleep cycle disruption. Women frequently experience sleep problems due to female hormone imbalances, specifically when progesterone is low. Emotional stress and blood sugar regulation problems are the two most common underlying causes for adrenal dysfunction and female hormone imbalances that lead to sleep problems. Melatonin, a hormone that regulates sleep, is also a key to immune system function. Low bedtime melatonin levels result in problems falling asleep. Low melatonin during the early morning hours causes people to wake between 2 am and 4 am. Anytime melatonin levels are low immune system function is depressed. Prior to using any hormone, including melatonin, appropriate lab testing is required.

Insomnia and the Digestive System:

Our modern diet is noticeably deficient in the minerals such as magnesium and calcium that are required for us to relax and get a good night’s sleep. Proper stomach acidity is paramount for our body to assimilate minerals that we take in from our food or from mineral supplements. We require not only adequate levels of each mineral, but the right balance of each mineral to sleep well. The common mineral deficiency in the United States is magnesium, although some people are lower in calcium or zinc. Poor protein digestion can lead to low serotonin levels. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter necessary for restful sleep.

Insomnia and the Detoxification System:

The major organ of detoxification, the liver, is most active between the hours of 1 a.m. to 3 a.m. If the liver is overwhelmed with the task of detoxification it will often wake us between these hours. It has been noted anecdotally for many years that people with liver detoxification problems wake in the morning with headaches and also experience nightmares that disturb sleep.

How acupuncture can help

According to the theories of acupuncture and Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), conditions such as insomnia are a sign of an imbalance in Qi (pronounced “chee”), the vital energy that animates the body and protects it from illness.

Here are a few questions your practitioner may ask. They help to refine your specific diagnosis.
  • Do you have difficulty falling asleep?
  • Do you have difficulty staying asleep?
  • Is your sleep filled with vivid dreams?
  • Is it difficult to calm your mind at night?
  • Is it difficult to sleep on your back? This can relate to a excess condition of the Lungs or Heart meridians.
  • Do you only sleep on your back with outstretched arms? This can reflect a pattern of excess heat.
  • Do you prefer to sleep on your stomach or side? This could indicate a deficient condition.

This imbalance can stem from a number of causes such as stress, anxiety, medications, depression, and chronic pain. To determine the underlying causes of your insomnia, your acupuncturist will take into account many factors, including your lifestyle and emotional and mental well-being. They will then work to restore the balance and flow of Qi by inserting fine, sterile needles at specific points along the body.

Your acupuncturist may also suggest aromatherapy, yoga, meditation, or other additional therapies. You may find that you sleep better after your very first session, though you will most likely receive the most benefit from a series of treatments.

Your acupuncturist can get to the root of your sleep issues by taking into account all of the factors that may be contributing to your sleep disturbance. With this ancient form of health care, you can treat your symptoms, improve your overall health and well-being, and start looking forward to a great night’s sleep, every night.

Overcoming Insomnia: How to achieve peaceful quality sleep. Accessed Feb. 1, 2008. Link
Insomnia. March 16, 2007. Link
The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Acupuncture. Alpha Books, 2000.

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