Stress and Insomnia: Chinese Medical Approach

Almost everyone in our society experiences some kind of stress. Almost everyone in our society occasionally experiences insomnia. The feeling of stress itself can be a positive response, alerting us to a potentially harmful situation. Occasional insomnia may be due to a situational factor such as anxiety over a big test, a job interview, a public speech. Neither of these situations warrants alarm. But chronic stress, or chronic insomnia, will certainly affect our health, and can lead to debilitating and limiting health issues.

Stress: Acupuncture, Herbal Therapy, and Asian Massage

Stress is here to stay, and is not necessarily the problem. Stress can be useful, motivating us to prepare for that test or job interview, or encouraging us to do the best we can in our vocations, relationships, pleasurable activities, professional and social interactions. When we respond to stress appropriately, the stress itself is not a problem, put a positive motivator. The problem arises when we respond to stress inappropriately, allowing it to become a chronic condition.

What is an appropriate response to stress? A response that allows us to prepare or deal with the situation as best we can, and then move on to the next experience. What is an inappropriate response to stress? Simply a response that does not address the stress in a reasonable manner, constantly postpones, suppresses, or ignores dealing with the situation. How can you tell if you are dealing with stress appropriately? Dealing with stress appropriately gives you a sense of satisfaction. How can you tell if you are dealing with stress inappropriately? Dealing with stress inappropriately makes you uncomfortable and eventually ill.

The above is easy to say, but rarely easy to do. In our society we are constantly bombarded with stimuli promoting an over active and chronic sympathetic nervous system response (the "flight or fight" response). I do believe that the physical, mental, chemical, and spiritual stressors we face in modern society are greater than at any other time in human history. These stressors certainly do, and can, encourage some to greater heights of self-awareness and actualization by delving deep into and discovering one's true potential. But for many of us, they seem overwhelming.

Chronic stress can be a major contributing factor in almost any disorder, including anxiety and depression, insomnia, vertigo/dizziness, muscle pain, chronic fatigue, irritable bowel syndrome, hypertension, digestive disorders, PMS, menopausal symptoms, infertility, headaches and migraines, some forms of asthma, back pain, neck pain, and cancers. Indeed, in my practice, I would say that every client's condition is to some extent related to stress (or an "inappropriate" response to stress), regardless of the symptoms they exhibit.

For a good overview on stress, its positive and negative effects, causes, health issues, etc., you may want to visit the following site, and click on "Stress":

There are many things one can do to help lower stress, including physical exercise, deep breathing, listening to soothing music, meditation, having a couple of really good, belly aching laughs every day, bodywork and massage, becoming a part of interactive groups or community associations. For many, some form of body centered psychotherapy or couple's counseling is suggested. Acupuncture, herbal therapy and shiatsu have a very long and successful history of treating acute and chronic stress, as well as the disorders associated with it.

Acupuncture is very effective in reducing stress by helping to balance the nervous system. The principle here is to clear obstructions in the muscle and nerve channels, facilitate the flow of fresh oxygen enriched energy to them, and relax the system. I have often observed the benefits of stress reduction and relaxation with acupuncture, including more relaxed and deeper breathing, increased digestive abilities, better sleeping patterns, a decrease in various forms of pain, and a general sense of well being. I have also found that a regular course (generally once a month) of shiatsu is very effective in health maintenance and stress relief, and is very enjoyable. In some instances, herbal therapy is appropriate. You may look at some of the formulas I use for this under the "Mental/Emotional" section of my herbal pharmacy.

Insomnia: Acupuncture, Herbal Therapy, and Asian Massage

How many of us awake refreshed every morning after a good night's sleep? In these stressful times, insomnia is a concern heard frequently in an acupuncture clinic. A night or two of restless sleep is generally only annoying (and a bit tiring!), but chronic insomnia can lead to serious health issues. If insomnia persists and begins to interfere with a person's ability to function efficiently during the day, the condition could require professional treatment.

Insomnia may have a number of causes, including:

Western medication is helpful in some cases, but the use of anti-anxiety drugs may interfere with the quality of sleep, and cause "rebound insomnia", loss of appetite, fatigue, and sexual dysfunction. The use of benzodiazepines has high abuse potential and can be addicting. Tricyclic antidepressants may have intolerable adverse effects including dry mouth, hypotension, urinary retention and cardiac conduction effects.

Acupuncture has an extremely calming effect on the nervous system, an excellent tolerability and safety profile, and has proven useful in addressing chronic insomnia. General acupuncture protocol for the treatment of chronic insomnia entails 10 initial treatments at 2 - 3 treatments per week, followed by a 2 - 4 week observational period, with the possibility of one treatment each week. Herbal formulas may be suggested.

For a review of scientific studies involving insomnia and acupuncture, go to:

If you would like to pursue this form of treatment, contact me at the following telephone number or e-mail address. You will be asked to fill out a detailed intake form before your first appointment. You may pick this up at my office, or I can e-mail it to you.


Calvin Dale Smith, BA, MSc, DOM
Doctor of Oriental Medicine (USA)
Riverside Acupuncture and Wellness Centre
2211 Riverside Dr., Suite 106
Ottawa, ON K1H 7X5
cdalesmith at