If you can't sleep in some capacity through the night, you may have a form of insomnia. You may have trouble falling asleep, staying asleep or both, or you may wake early before your alarm, unable to fall back to sleep. According to Chinese medicine, all of these different forms of sleeplessness point to a deeper, underlying imbalance that needs to be addressed so that you can get a normal night's sleep. If you are someone who suffers from any degree of insomnia, acupuncture and Chinese medicine may be able to help.
How does Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine Treat Insomnia?
In order to treat insomnia, Chinese medicine looks at 3 specific aspects of your health:
- The problem pattern of sleep
- Your emotional health and the effects of stress
- The condition of your physical health
Knowing these things gives your acupuncturist important information about the root of your insomnia-the underlying condition which may be causing or contributing to the problem. An "underlying condition" can be anything from daily stress to habitual, pent-up or unresolved emotions; it can also be a pattern of pain and discomfort while sleeping; it can be a result of menopause or aging; it can even be a problem rooted in your digestion. The point is, in Chinese medicine, if your health is suffering in another area, your sleep will reflect that problem. Once these factors are identified, treatments simultaneously address the root condition and the problem pattern of sleep so a normal sleep cycle can quickly be restored. In a small study published in the Journal of Neuropsychiatry, 18 patients suffering from anxiety and insomnia were treated with acupuncture twice a week for five weeks. One week before and after treatment, they were given tests to determine changes in melatonin, sleep quality, total time spent asleep and other variables. One week following completion of treatment, sleep efficiency and night-time melatonin levels had increased.
Are Chinese Herbs Helpful?
Chinese herbal therapy is an important tool in the treatment of insomnia. Herbs work on a daily basis to help improve quality and duration of sleep, reduce dream disturbed sleep and help you to feel refreshed upon waking. Unlike conventional medicines, Chinese herbs are not tranquilizing or sedating, so you are able to get a good night's sleep without any side effects such as grogginess or fatigue. Herbs are taken 2 to 3 times a day, the last dose usually at bedtime. Prescriptions will be different for each patient, but in general they contain herbs that help calm the mind, relax the body and also address the underlying condition that is contributing to the pattern of insomnia. Herbs can be taken whether or not you are taking prescription medication, including sleeping pills.
Beginning a Weight Loss Program
There is no miracle cure for weight loss. Everything you hear about commitment to nutrition, exercise and life-style changes is true; without them, any quick and easy weight loss "solution" is temporary at best. But a committed person, one who is inspired to lose weight not only for their appearance but also for their health, can use acupuncture and Chinese medicine to help them begin, achieve and maintain their weight loss goals. If you are ready to begin losing weight or have been trying to lose weight and are having difficulty, acupuncture can be a valuable adjunct therapy to your weight loss program. In a recent study, acupuncture helped promote weight loss. 20 women between the ages of 22 and 42, all with BMI (Body Mass Index) higher than 27, were divided into 2 groups. The group of women who followed a regimen of a 2,000 calorie per day diet, daily exercise and weekly ear acupuncture treatments lost on average more than twice as much weight as those who only dieted and exercised, even if they did not comply exactly with the treatment plan.
How does Acupuncture Help?
It is important to address both the physiological and psychological aspects of weight loss. Since Acupuncture and Chinese herbs treat the physical, mental and emotional components to any illness, there are several ways that they can benefit you while you are trying to lose weight.
- Regulates Metabolism: Acupuncture also helps to regulate metabolism. A history of irregular eating, overeating and even thyroid dysfunction all contribute to a slow metabolism. Acupuncture can help to increase metabolism by stimulating the thyroid and endocrine glands as your body adjusts to the changes in your diet and exercise. Affecting the endocrine system also helps to stabilize blood sugar levels.
- Stops Food Cravings: Regular acupuncture treatments can help curb food cravings, just as it has been proven to help cravings for other addictive substances like tobacco and alcohol. Support from acupuncture helps to eliminate cravings and increases the will power to overcome them.
- Benefits Digestion: Over time, things like crash diets, irregular eating habits and excessive greasy or fattening foods all take their toll on the digestion. Chronic symptoms such as bloating, gas, heartburn, constipation or diarrhea are all signs that the digestive system is out of balance. Acupuncture can help to harmonize the digestive organs so that you are symptom-free. Proper digestion ensures that you are getting the nutrients you need from your food so you feel less hungry.
- Calming and Relaxing: When acupuncture needles are inserted into specific points on the body and in the ear it stimulates the release of endorphins. Endorphins have a calming and relaxing effect on the body. Naturally releasing endorphins makes it easier to deal with stress, frustration and anxiety which can be triggers for emotional eating, overeating and bingeing on fattening foods.
- Cleansing: Acupuncture treatments during weight loss help to cleanse your system. Toxins that have been built up over time from excess weight and adipose tissue can cause symptoms such as fatigue, acne and depression. These can be relieved or eliminated with acupuncture, whether or not you are trying to lose weight.
What about Nutrition Information and Herbal Therapy?
In much the same way, dietary recommendations are individualized from a Chinese medical perspective. Many people trying to lose weight struggle with maintaining certain dietary restrictions or "fad diets." This is not merely due to a lack of will power. It is due, in part, to the nutrition and sustenance your body needs. Not everyone is meant to live without carbohydrates. Not everyone is meant to be a vegetarian. Chinese medicine takes into account your personal health and the dietary recommendations that are specific to your constitution. Nutrition plans based on Chinese medicine are made to support not just weight loss, but food cravings, sustained energy and an overall sense of health and well-being. There are a number of herbs that have been used commercially, such as Ephedra, that are not meant to be used as weight loss aids. It is unsafe to ingest any herbs in a manner in which they are not meant to be used. This is why it is important to have your acupuncturist prescribe Chinese herbs that can safely be used for your constitution. Herbs taken on a daily basis continue work on the digestive system. They help to balance and strengthen the digestive organs. This in turn helps metabolism, appetite and unhealthy food cravings.
How Many Treatments will I Need?
The number of acupuncture treatments necessary depends on the patient's goals for losing weight, the speed at which they want to lose, and their commitment to a new, healthier lifestyle. In general, in the beginning it is important to come for consistent weekly or bi-weekly treatments to help get you started. Once you are feeling comfortable with your new weight loss plan, the number of treatments will decrease anywhere from one to two visits a month. When you have reached your weight loss goals, you need only come four times a year, when the seasons change, to keep your system balanced and healthy. It is important to keep in mind the benefits of having a trained professional to assist you during your weight loss process. It is helpful to have someone help monitor your symptoms during weight loss, and your acupuncturist is someone who can help treat any adverse symptoms as your body's natural rhythms are restored. Using acupuncture can be a wonderful way to assist you on your goals toward better health and losing weight. Together, you and your acupuncturist can help you set your weight loss goals and achieve them.