Sleep is a hugely important time for your mind and body to relax, replenish and regenerate. A perfect night of sleep involves easily falling asleep shortly after you go to bed, sleeping peacefully all night and waking replenished and energized in the morning. Unfortunately, many people have difficulties falling asleep, suffer from restless nights, dream-disturbed sleep, wake often and feel just as tired in the morning!
TCM has a slightly different way of looking at insomnia -the best description I have come across has been written by Jonathan Clogstoun-Willmott, a very experience practitioner based in Edinburgh, in his article 'Insomnia, Sleep Disorders and Sleeplessness'. I have paraphrased his explanation of 'The Insomniac's Balloon' below:
Imagine yourself as a hot air balloon -the balloon represents your mind and your yang emergy, the bucket, which is full of fuel and liquid, represents your body and your yin energy.
When you're awake, the balloon is hot and it easily floats upwards, untroubled by sleepiness, making you alert and awake.
When you feel tired and want to lie down, you've used up the reserves in your bucket and the balloon becomes less hot and sinks downwards.
When the bucket is too small, the balloon ascends too easily because there isn't enough to hold it down so even a little heat is enough to raise the balloon (this is common with young children or elderly people).
If your mind is too active, or you're high on excitement (or drugs), or you're too hot perhaps from exercise or illness, then your Yang is too strong for your Yin, at least until the Yang has cooled down a bit.
To get to sleep and to stay sleep, you need enough Yin (a full bucket of liquid), and reduced Yang (a small flame and hence a cooler balloon).
When you are comfortably asleep, Yang rests within Yin: your Mind rests within the body.
Then, in the morning, after a good sleep, your Yang-Mind is reinvigorated from its rest within your Yin-Body, and your Yin-Body is refreshed from the presence of your Yang. Up you get, feeling great!
Acupuncture can help you balance your Yin and Yang energy so that you can enjoy a restful night. It's also important to get into good habits, such as avoiding stimulants like TVs and laptops late at night, avoiding eating too late and establishing a good night-time routine which all helps to calm your yang energy ready for sleep.
Deborah Tanguy BHSc, MBAcC
Lead practitioner at Wholebody Acupuncture and a registered member of the British Acupuncture Council with a special interest in treating women's health and injury recovery.