Acupuncture and Insomnia ~ The Balance Between Yin and Yang

Flickr - Acupuncture - Vivian ChenErin Piccola, LAc, Guest
Waking Times

How many people do you know who suffer from occasional (or frequent) sleeplessness? How many colleagues have you overheard in the break room, pouring that third cup of coffee, and recounting the way they just lay there, staring at the ceiling, with hundreds of thoughts racing around in their heads? How many of us have aging parents or grandparents who can no longer seem to sleep past 4:00am? Perhaps more troubling, how many of our children wake feeling unrested and have a difficult time making it through the school day without falling asleep at their desks?

Approximately 15% of the adult population is regularly affected by insomnia, and most of us have dealt with sleep problems at one point or another. A variety of factors can contribute to lack of sleep or poor quality of sleep, including stress, diet, pain, and various lifestyle factors. To make matters worse, because of the restorative power of sleep on the mind and the body, lack of sleep often exacerbates the factors that caused it in the first place! For example, if recurrent neck pain or headaches makes it difficult for a person to sleep at night, that person won’t get the healing benefits of a good night’s sleep, and the pain is likely to get worse, perpetuating the cycle.

  • Acupuncture and Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) are incredibly powerful tools in the fight against the dreaded insomnia cycle. Because TCM focuses on treating the whole body and not just the symptoms, the root cause of the insomnia will be addressed, be it stress, pain, dietary irregularities, etc. By resolving the underlying imbalance, the insomnia will effectively be treated, and the individual will enjoy a better overall quality of life.

    At the root of sleeping problems is an imbalance in the Central Nervous System (CNS), or in terms of Chinese medicine, an imbalance between Yin and Yang. There are two major divisions of the CNS: the Sympathetic and Parasympathetic divisions. The Sympathetic branch is commonly known as the “fight-or-flight” division. This branch is responsible for the stress response which, for most of us, is active all day, every day. This is also the Yang aspect in Chinese medicine, responsible for the myriad tasks performed by our cells and organ systems to keep our bodies functioning properly; the extroverted, energetic, and expressive aspects of our personalities.

    The Parasympathetic branch is also known as the “rest-and-digest” division. This has become a bit of misnomer unfortunately since very few of us have the luxury of truly “resting” during our meals, and even fewer can rest afterward and allow their bodies to properly digest before the Sympathetic stress response kicks back in. This is the Yin aspect, the substance of the body, the more quiet, contemplative, and thoughtful aspects of our personalities.

    Proper balance between Yin and Yang, Parasympathetic and Sympathetic stimulation, is vital for maintaining proper health and wellbeing. Unfortunately, with the stressors of modern living, most people spend a disproportionate amount of time in the Sympathetic division. In the short term, the body can adapt and adjust to the discrepancy. Over time however, the imbalance becomes more ingrained and it can become more and more difficult to transition out of the Sympathetic, Yang phase and into the Parasympathetic, Yin phase. This is why so many of us lay awake at night, unable to quiet our minds, unable to settle our bodies. This is also why, as we get older, it becomes more difficult to get a full and restful night’s sleep. We may start waking up too early or waking up not feeling rested.

    Fortunately, there is hope for these sleeping problems; hope that does not involve a life-long dependance on sleeping medications that chemically depress the Central Nervous System. These medications do nothing to truly solve the problem of sleeplessness.  Instead, they can cause further CNS imbalance. At its core, Acupuncture and TCM work to restore the fundamental balance between Yin and Yang, in other words, the Sympathetic and Parasympathetic divisions of the nervous system. This means a treatment for sleep disorders that addresses the root of the problem as well as the manifestations.

    About the Author

    Erin Piccola is a licensed Acupuncturist in the state of California and a nationally-certified practitioner of Oriental Medicine. She received her Master’s degree from Pacific College of Oriental Medicine in San Diego, CA, and is now practicing at OC Sports and Wellness – an innovative medical clinic and wellness center located in beautiful Orange County, CA. Erin has experience successfully treating a wide range of conditions combining a solid biomedical foundation with a variety of traditional therapeutic modalities to optimize results for her patients.

    For more information about Erin and her practice, please visit:

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