I (Dr. Kuhn) have seen many patients throughout my career and I have asked every one of them if they had good night’s sleep. The ones who said “yes” healed faster; the ones who said “no” healed much more slowly. I then changed my strategy and treated their insomnia at the same time I addressed their other problems. The results were much better after I regulated their sleep. Their primary problem healed a lot faster.
There are many natural ways that can help to deal with insomnia. But first of all, we need to identify the cause or causes. This is the underlying principle of the Eastern healing system. Without removing the causes, the insomnia can come back after a while. No matter what methods you use to help the insomnia, it is just at a superficial level or only gives temporary relief if you do not solve the underlying problem.
As in the Western approach to insomnia, if your sleep difficulties are caused by medication that you use for your other illness, you may need to think about how to use natural ways to help to reduce the need for medication. In some cases, you may have to use medication for the rest of your life, but not in all cases. Who wants to use medication for a lifetime, anyway? If you want to reduce the amount of medication you are taking, you need to do everything you can to correct the underlying problem. For example, if your blood pressure medication is disturbing your sleep, get serious about changing your diet, exercising, meditating, and practicing qigong in order to decrease your need for that medication. You may surprise yourself and be able to get off medication completely.
Be sure to discuss medication changes with the prescribing physician before you decrease your dose. Many drugs have serious side effects if they are stopped suddenly. The dose must be reduced gradually. Qigong exercise and changing your diet is a very good way to improve your sleep while you are tapering your medications under supervision.
If your insomnia is caused by relationships, you may need to find way to improve those relationships, or let go if the situation cannot be changed. No matter what, you will need to do something, otherwise you will need to use medication to help you sleep and deal with the side effects of medication.
Causes and Solutions of Insomnia
If your insomnia is caused by stress, find an effective way to reduce your stress. I had a patient some years ago who had severe insomnia. I asked her if there is anything troubling her mind. She said she was worried about money because she had two houses and two mortgages to pay. I ask her what would happen if she sold one house and just kept one house. She said she wanted to have two houses. OK, then, she will have worry, insomnia, and consequently some other illness. Human desire is endless, never having enough. If you sit back and think a moment: what is important in life? Would health and happiness come from multiple houses, fancy cars, and a million dollars in the bank? Not really. I used to have two houses. But the endless housework gave me back pain; it is too much work! The pressure of paying too much in mortgage payments is not wise. I could have had more savings if I had learned to live more simply at that time. I am now living more simply and have created a stress-free life: no need to worry. I am happier; I have enough for food, a house, travel, taxes, and bills. Now I can relax.
Many people overthink their problems, making circles in their minds. Over thinking can create problems. This is inefficient and does not often lead to solutions. It has no end and it can keep you up all night. I have seen so many people over- thinking. They had anxiety, insomnia, depression, low energy, and poor immune function. An over-used mind doesn’t work efficiently. I often teach my patients to write everything down on a piece of paper to relax the mind. This way you use your eyes instead of your mind. This method helps you to make things happen by accomplishing each item on the paper, rather than overuse the mind, going in circles. Sometimes allowing your mind to run in circles can lead you to make wrong decisions. You will need to break this cycle by practicing meditation, qigong, tai chi, or yoga; whatever practice best calms your mind.
If your insomnia is caused by pain, dealing with the pain should be the first step. For example, if you have a neck problem, you can go to a medical professional or holistic medical professional to get help. In my training program “Wellness Tui Na Therapy,” the level II is “Back and Neck Therapy.” This special therapy can help insomnia, headaches, dizziness, and other issues that Western medicine has difficulty treating. As the pain levels drop, the sleeping improves.
If your insomnia is cause by over excitement, either positive or negative, you should immediately use appropriate techniques to keep your body and mind calm, even and restore the inner peace. The techniques can be qigong, tai chi, yoga, meditation, stretching, deep breathing, whichever you feel it’s right for you. In my own experience, practicing qigong, even for just a few minutes, can help me to calm my mind and body.
If your insomnia is caused by a hormone imbalance, regulating hormones can help the sleep. In Chinese medicine, hormone imbalance indicates organ system imbalance. With appropriate herbal medicine, acupuncture, or qigong, hormones can be regulated naturally.
In some cases, insomnia is caused from eating at night. Generally speaking, you should not eat any high calorie food or drink after dinner. Unfortunately, many people enjoy some snacks, junk food, or dessert after dinner, which causes either insomnia or a weight problem. Discovering and addressing the underlying reason that some people overeat at night can solve many sleep problems.
Regarding using sleeping pills, I had a patient who told me that she had the opposite reaction – they kept her awake all night. Most people can fall asleep using a sleeping pill. Unfortunately, the quality of sleep that results from the use of sleeping pills is not normal. Also, using sleeping pills over a long period of time not only causes more problems from side effects (which we have discussed previously), but also it becomes less effective or addictive. If you have to use them under extreme circumstances, I recommend only occasional use. Every day use is not recommended. Unfortunately, many people fear that they may be worse if they don’t take the sleeping pill. You may feel tired if you don’t get a good night’s sleep, but once catching up the sleep on the next night, you will feel better the following day. Fear and anxiety around the inability to sleep can make your insomnia worse. It is best to avoid the use of sleeping pills altogether.
No matter what caused your insomnia, learning and practicing qigong and tai chi can help to regulate your sleep. Tai chi and qigong are moving meditation. These slow exercises incorporate breath, mind, and body help to balance the autonomic nervous system, especially increasing vagus nerve function (parasympathetic nervous function). The vagus nerve regulates heart rate, breathing, blood pressure, and all other organ functions. This is the key component of the central nervous system that improves sleep when it is regulated.
THE EAST/WEST APPROACH TO INSOMNIA
- Ensure a safe and comfortable sleeping environment
- Turn off all electronics at least one hour before bed
- Avoid stimulants such as caffeine later in the day
- Only lie down when you are actually sleepy
- Get out of bed at the same time every morning
- Engage in adequate cardiovascular exercise during the day
- Meditate, perform qigong in the evening, or do both
- See your doctor if your insomnia persists
The above is an excerpt from True Wellness The Mind: How to Combine the Best of Western and Eastern Medicine for Optimal Health by Catherine Kurosu, MD, L.Ac. and Aihan Kuhn, CMD, OBT, Pub date July 2019, YMAA Publication Center, ISBN: 978-1-59439-664-9.