The Process Of Diagnosing Insomnia With Chinese Medicine

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by Brigitte Lalor

Insomnia is an inability to get sufficient sleep and is a symptom of an internal imbalance within the body.

It is the imbalance that keeps the body awake at night.

This health problem can be traced back 2000 years ago to Classical medical text.

Insomnia is still a prevalent health complaint affecting about 9-15% of the population globally.

Sleep deprivation or disruption of the circadian rhythm can lead to serious impairment of daytime functioning.

Lack of sleep can interfere with cognitive functioning, conscious awareness, ability to perceive and interact and communicate clearly.

In Chinese medicine, Insomnia can refer to any of these sleep-related symptoms;

Vivid dreams, difficulty falling asleep, difficulty staying asleep, excessive dreaming, shallow sleep, restless sleep, frequently waking through the night, sleeping late at night, un-refreshed sleep, half asleep, early morning awakening from sleep with difficulty getting back to sleep, inability to sleep for the whole night, difficulty falling asleep alone, nightmares and difficulty falling asleep with vexation.

A systemic review was done on ‘Classification of Insomnia Using Traditional Chinese Medicine’. From this study they identified that there were 69 different patterns causing insomnia, however, the top 10 patterns represented about 80% of the subjects.

A checklist was created for Chinese Medicine diagnosis purposes for insomnia. It consists of 92 items, including 13 sleep-related items, 61 non-sleep related items, 11 tongue features and 7 pulse features.

Examples of non-sleep related symptoms include: dizziness, palpitations, vexation, poor memory, dry mouth, bitter taste…

Examples of tongue features include: red tongue, pale tongue, thin coat, yellow coating, slimy coating, white coating and scanty coat.

Examples of the pulse features include: rapid pulse, thin pulse, weak pulse, slippery pulse.

Taking all information into account, a Chinese medicine practitioner categorises a person’s somatic signs and symptoms, tongue analysis and pulse analysis to formulate the aetiology and pathogenesis of insomnia.

Treatment with Acupuncture and herbal medicine usually produce a reliable result in most types of insomnia. Some patterns of insomnia are however more difficult to treat than others.

Brigitte Lalor



Classification of Insomnia Using Traditional Chinese Medicine: A Systemic Review Maggie Man-Ki Poon et al, 2012

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