By Kathy Thorpe, MA, CHom, Boulder, Colorado
It’s midnight and you’re still awake. You’ve been tossing and turning in bed for the last hour, and you can’t seem to fall asleep. Then your mind throws you a curve: “You’re not going to be able to fall asleep! You have a busy day tomorrow and you won’t be able to function!” With these thoughts, your heart starts racing and pounding, you experience palpitations in your chest. Sure enough, you can’t fall asleep.
A good night’s sleep is vital to your overall health, vitality, energy, memory and cognitive function. If you are among the 70 million Americans suffering from insomnia, you may be wondering if there are natural ways to restore your sleep before you resort to sleeping pills. Approximately nine million U.S. adults take prescription sleeping medications which bring their own set of risks. According to a study in the journal BMJ in 2012, in addition to being addicting, sleep medications bring a higher risk for certain cancers, a higher risk of death, increased insulin resistance and risk of developing diabetes, weight gain and a greater incidence of depression, confusion and disorientation.
So what are the causes of insomnia? We know that age is a factor as insomnia increases as people get older and experience a disruption in the body’s circadian rhythms. Anxiety and heightened stress are other causes. When a person is stressed or anxious, the body’s “fight or flight” mechanisms take over even if there is no real threat. Adrenaline and cortisol are released, the heart beats faster, one becomes hyper-vigilant and mentally alert. Unfortunately, this isn’t the time to escape from the tiger – this is the time to sleep. Short-term insomnia can be caused by an injury, illness, surgery, medications, divorce, the death of a loved one, trouble at work, financial problems or traveling, for example. Typically, good sleep returns once one recovers from the temporary situation, but for many people, the sleep disturbances continue and the insomnia becomes chronic.
David Scrimgeour, acupuncturist and Chinese medical practitioner in Boulder, Colorado, says that he sees more cases of insomnia these days than ever before. He maintains that the rates of insomnia are growing astronomically as more people experience prolonged states of high stress, anxiety, poor diet, over-work and too little exercise. Burnout develops gradually as a person’s vital energy erodes and results in a failure to adapt to the changes and stresses of life. Once sleep, which was the great restorer, is affected, all other issues escalate.
Scrimgeour sees that insomnia can be treated effectively by acupuncture, Chinese Medicine and lifestyle modifications. According to David Scrimgeour, acupuncture helps restore sleep in two ways. First, it calms the “spirit” when there is an imbalance in the body’s energy system. This enables the body to calm down, relax and fall asleep. Secondly, acupuncture regulates the autonomic nervous system or the involuntary functions of the body. When the sympathetic nervous system is activated, it controls the body’s responses to a perceived threat and is responsible for the “fight or flight” response. Once the sympathetic nervous system is upregulated, it becomes impossible to relax because of the adrenaline and cortisol pumping through your body to keep you alert. Acupuncture has the effect of bringing your body into the parasympathetic mode, which controls homeostasis and is responsible for the body’s digestive, rest and sleep functions. In this mode, you can relax and fall asleep.
David Scrimgeour also recommends specific Chinese herbal formulas in conjunction with acupuncture for insomnia. “It is a process,” he says, “of first calming down the nervous system and enabling the person to sleep with a formula such as Calm ES by Evergreen or Lights Out by Dragon Herbs. Once a person is able to start sleeping better, we can work on the underlying imbalances.” For chronic insomnia, Scrimgeour says that it is essential to address adrenal deficiency with certain Chinese herbal formulas that can restore function to the adrenals over time. Supreme Immune Tonic by Six Persimmons Apothecary is an excellent formula for adrenal deficiency. Once the adrenals are functioning better, sleep is restored and a person’s energy, vitality and mental acuity are also improved.
Through the use of acupuncture and Chinese herbal formulas, David Scrimgeour has been able to help many people sleep better and enjoy enhanced health as a result.
David Scrimgeour practices acupuncture and Chinese Medicine at his clinic in Boulder, Colorado. He also serves the Longmont, Louisville, Lafayette and Erie areas in Colorado. For more information about sleep disturbances and insomnia, he can be reached at 303 413-9596 or through his website: www.davidscrimgeour.com.
Kathy Thorpe is a natural health writer and blogger who has been writing about alternative approaches to health and wellness for the past ten years. Prior to that, she taught English at U.C. Berkeley and at the University of Colorado. She can be reached at 303 583-0179.