Do you have trouble sleeping or staying asleep? This problem is more common than you think. According to a report published in 2020, nine out of 10 Malaysians suffer from some level of sleeplessness or insomnia, and experience more than one type of sleeping problem.
Read on to learn about the causes of insomnia, its associated health risks and treatment options from the perspectives of both Western practice and Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM).
The Pea Under the Mattress
Insomnia is characterised by difficulty in initiating or maintaining sleep. It can also mean waking up too early in the morning well before the desired time. This is regardless of the adequate circumstances for sleep each night. This disorder is accompanied by substantial distress and impairments of daytime functioning.
Having trouble sleeping can affect anyone, women and people above 65 years old are more susceptible to developing insomnia. However, there are other risk factors like:
- Psychosocial issues (stress at work, loss of a loved one)
- Genetics (apolipoprotein E4, period circadian regulator 3)
- Personality traits (excessive worrying, perfectionism)
- Psychiatric comorbidities (depression, post-traumatic stress disorder)
- Excessive intake of substances (alcohol, caffeine, nicotine)
TCM practitioners believe that having trouble sleeping through the night reflects a dysfunction or imbalance within the body. This is especially in the Heart, Liver, Spleen, Kidney or Gallbladder.
Among working adults in Malaysia, 55% reported sleeping less than the recommended seven hours per night for adults. Factors associated with insufficient sleep were old age, smoking and high psychological distress.
Beyond Those Sleepless Hours
Insufficient or poor-quality sleep can significantly impact daytime functioning. It can lead you to wake up feeling tired in the morning. You might also experience reduced workplace productivity, be more prone to errors and accidents, and have a poor quality of life.
Research shows that even an hour deficit in optimum sleep duration regularly links to a 60–80% higher risk of depression, hopelessness, nervousness, and restlessness. Notably, you cannot compensate for the weekday sleep debt like sleeping in on weekends.
In patients who experience chronic insomnia disorder (sleep disturbances for over three months during which night-time sleep is affected for more than three times a week),
Eu Yan Sang’s TCM Physician
When Counting Sheep Fails
In Western medicine, cognitive behavioural therapy is the first-line treatment for insomnia. It typically comprises six sessions over six to eight weeks, covering topics such as sleep education, relaxation techniques, sleep restriction therapy and stimulus control therapy. However, the scarcity of therapists and high treatment costs make it less practical for many patients.
Pharmacotherapy with melatonin — including
You should only use these drugs in conjunction with education on
In TCM, physicians also explore both physical and lifestyle factors before designing a treatment plan for each patient. Physician Kwek shares the combination of herbal medicine and acupuncture. When properly administered, they can bring relief in just a few days.
Sour jujube seed is a common TCM herb that physicians use in insomnia treatments that nourishes the Liver and Heart
Acupuncture targeting the shen mai (申脉) and zhao hai (照海) points can regulate and promote the balance between yin and yang energy. They can also relax the body and mind, thereby promoting sleep.
However, it may not be suitable for those who are pregnant or are afraid of needles. Massaging the acupuncture points (tui na) or cupping are potential alternatives in such cases.
Physician Kwek emphasised that “whether you have a sleep disorder, or your sleeplessness is symptomatic of other issues, seeking help can prevent it from developing into anything more serious”. If poor sleep has been troubling you recently, please consult your doctor or physician soon.