I sometimes suffer from a lack of sleep. In Chinese medicine, there are a lot of potential causes for insomnia. But all of them share one simple feature – they self perpetuate. Which is to say that insomnia begets insomnia. Simplistically speaking, the phrase “burning the midnight oil” has some truth to it – when you stay awake too late, you consume Qi and especially Blood, among other negative effects. This, in turn, will make it more difficult for you to sleep – both that night and following nights. It’s self-reinforcing. Because of this, it is of vital importance that you interrupt the cycle as soon as possible.
At this point, when I wake up at some ungodly hour or simply fail to fall asleep, I have three things I do to get back in dreamland quickly. Perhaps they will help you as well. I should also note that if you have serious insomnia, your best bet is to find a good Chinese medicine physician. But these steps should help you when you’re up and need to get back to sleep.
1. Make myself a cup of blood tonifying tea : Often, there is some deficiency of Blood at the root of insomnia. This is especially the case if the insomnia has to do with too much work or general life stress (not stress from deaths in the family or extreme situations). I must say that the below is not a proper formula, but it’s ok in a pinch.
I have provided links to sources where available – if you use those links, I do get a small portion of the sale price, all of that money goes to get me through school so I appreciate it very much. Regardless, all of these herbs should be available from your local health food store or Chinese medicinary. Be sure to check for Angelica sinensis – there are North American variants available and I’m not sure
- 2 parts Astragalus (Huang Qi) preferably honey fried (Zhi Huang Qi) – no, it’s not vegan. I sometimes “honey fry” my own with agave nectar, you can fry it up with a little honey in a frying pan until the honey is well absorbed. I haven’t done any testing to see whether agave nectar is a sufficient substitution, but it’s something I plan on investigating. I use local, raw honey when I find it necessary for medicinal purposes.
- 1 part (Dang Gui, Tang Kui) – Available through Chinese Herbs Direct
- 1 part Longnan fruit (Long Yan Rou) - You may need to go to a Chinese herbal medicinary or a Chinese grocery store for these
I put all of these in a Bodum glass teapot (I love this thing), but you could boil them over low heat for 15 minutes or so and then strain out the herbs, too. That would be a stronger method than what I use, so use caution especially if you have any Spleen/Stomach issues (digestive) as this is a fairly cloying combination, particularly with the sweetened Huang Qi. Drink 8-16 ounces, warm but not hot.
When I’m having a lot of episodes of insomnia, I’ll drink this tea often. It definitely helps. When it gets really bad, I go and see one of my many excellent doctors.
2. Do deep breathing exercises
After I drink my tea, and even while I’m drinking, I do some simple visualization and deep breathing. I take very slow, intentful breaths either sitting or lying and with my feet contacting the floor. On the inhale, I do two visualizations. First, I imagine that the energy of my body is moving down, contacting my heart, kidneys, lower abdomen and finally down to my feet and out into the floor.
Second, I imagine a gentle golden yellow ball of light in my lower abdomen that expands slightly during the breath. On the exhale, I imagine cool, clear energy rising from the ground through my feet and going up to my heart and brain – contacting my lower abdomen and kidneys on the way up. Be very careful to focus equally on inhale and exhale, perhaps even a little more on the exhale. Do this for at least 10 minutes. It may put you to sleep on its own.
3. Make contact with Kidney 1
If I’m still not tired enough to go to sleep at this point, I continue my focused breathing in an inclined position in bed. In this position, I find Kidney-1 (here is a location guide for Kidney 1) and press firmly. While I breath, I make sure to focus strongly here – particularly on the inhale. Kidney 1’s name is Yong Quan or Gushing/rushing spring. This cooling and grounding energy will help to pull the excess activity out of your Heart/head. It is also the wood point on this water channel and as such may nourish the wood Liver which is often deficient or stagnant in cases of insomnia. I sometimes have to hold this point for 90 seconds, sometimes for 5 minutes.
About Eric Grey
Hi - I'm the founder of this site and the primary master of all functions here. When I'm not writing, you can find me reaching out to the Chinese Medicine community across the web and in my own backyard. I currently teach Chinese herbs at my alma mater, the National College of Natural Medicine. Additionally, I'm the founder of Watershed Wellness, a thriving local clinic in Southeast Portland in Oregon. No matter where I'm working, you'll find my focus on the Classical approach to Chinese medicine laced throughout everything I do.