If you’re tossing and turning all night or waking up exhausted in the morning, you’re not alone. Over a third of all adults in the U.S. report sleeping on average for less than seven hours per night and almost half say they feel sleepy during the day at least three days a week.
While prescription sleep aids are effective for many in the short-term, research shows they don’t help long-term and can cause rebound insomnia when they’re stopped. If you’ve already got the basics of good sleep hygiene down—like staying away from electronic devices an hour before bed, sticking to a set wake-up time every day, and cutting down on caffeine by the afternoon—but you still feel like you’re not getting restful sleep, you’re not out of options. The key to your best sleep ever just may be Traditional Chinese Medicine.
Traditional Chinese Medicine herbs and formulas have been used to treat sleep issues for over 2,000 years in China. With many clinical studies, including randomized controlled clinical trials, on TCM for sleep, Western countries have started turning to its remedies more and more over the past few years—and many now-reformed insomniacs all the better rested for it.
Here’s what you need to know about TCM and sleep:
It’s all about balance.
We’re used to thinking about sleep in relation to the circadian rhythm, aka our 24-hour body clock. But in TCM, the body has what’s called an organ body clock. It works with the balance of yin qi, nighttime energy, and yang qi, daytime energy. For restful sleep, the two must be balanced. Help that balance by making sure you’re slowing down in the evening. As nighttime approaches, let your body know it’s time to move into the yin energy phase by dimming the lights, meditating, reading, or just relaxing and breathing.
Pinpoint the problem.
Although the cause-effect relationship between acupuncture and quality sleep hasn’t been definitively proven, acupuncture is often used by TCM practitioners and recommended by Western healthcare providers to help their patients get rested. One study of people with insomnia found that people who had acupuncture had better sleep efficiency, more total sleep time, and fewer awakenings. Their self-rated anxiety also improved significantly. Another study found that acupuncture was more effective at increasing sleep quality and daytime functioning than the sedative medication estazolam. This could be due to acupuncture releasing neurotransmitters like serotonin, which helps regulate sleep, into the central nervous system
The right TCM herbs can make a difference.
Reviews of randomized controlled clinical trials suggest that Chinese herbal remedies could significantly improve how fast you fall asleep and how long you sleep. There’s a wide spectrum of herbs that can help, including Suanzaoren, Fuling, and Gancao herbs, all working on different brain receptors to help you fall asleep and stay asleep. TCM has a system of pressure points and meridians to help understand how our organs, blood, and energy function. For those with insomnia or sleep apnea, sleeping too lightly could indicate a heart imbalance, while difficulty falling asleep can translate to an imbalanced liver. If you can’t sleep because of nightmares or repetitive dreams, your gallbladder may be a factor. A TCM practitioner can help tailor your herbal remedy to your sleep problems, and may even recommend pairing it with acupuncture.
However you address your sleep issues, it’s worth the effort. How you sleep at night is how you perform and feel during the day. With the right tools—including TCM—your sleep can be your superpower.