• TheSean BarkesClinic

Dying for a Good Night’s Sleep?

Updated: May 28

The news this week is bad for people taking sleeping tablets; a large scale American study of over 1,000 people taking a wide range of drugs such as tem***pam and zop***one to help with sleep problems, found that people taking them were 4.6 times more likely to die over a 2.5 year period than people not taking such drugs. It is unclear why that might be. It’s not much fun being an insomniac at the best of times, but some people will probably have even more trouble getting off to sleep now, since they will be worried that their medicine might be killing them!

The other problem with such drugs is that they don’t really address the underlying disharmony in a person’s being that is interrupting the natural cycle of waking and sleeping, one of the most fundamental natural cycles which are described in the classical Chinese tradition in terms of the dynamic equilibrium between Yin and Yang. Whereas Yang is to do with light, activity, moving outwards, Yin is darkness, stillness, inwardness. Night time, the time to sleep, is the Yin time, and insomnia is strongly suggestive of a relative lack of Yin within the individual‘s body and mind. Sleeping tablets don’t do anything to restore that harmony – if they did, they certainly wouldn‘t be increasing the chance of a premature demise – they just knock you out.

Traditional acupuncture treatment of insomnia begins with an understanding of just how that balance has been disrupted. Once we are clear on that, we can see how acupuncture can help restore it, and we can perhaps suggest other things – dietary changes for example – which may help.

When I treat patients for sleep problems like this, I often mention my own pet way of falling asleep if I am a bit too restless for it to happen like it should (assuming I have not been foolish enough, yet again, to drink too much coffee!). What I do is to imagine myself getting up and going downstairs and out of the house. I do this in as much detail as I can, for instance imagining picking up my key, unlocking the door, locking it behind me, etc. I make my way down the road and on to some nearby spot in the countryside, perhaps by the local river (in my imagination, I can travel quite quickly if I want to go some distance.) Here I find there is something like a staircase down into a hole or cave in the ground, and I descend down these steps. From then on , if I am still not asleep, I let my imagination have a free rein – so I might find myself meeting someone I know down there, or encountering an animal, or really whatever happens. However, I try to keep moving further down. Usually I fall asleep doing this, but even if it takes a while, at least I have an interesting time!

I suppose this is something like a deliberate attempt to enter the dream world, or the unconscious. In classical Chinese terms, going down into the dark is definitely moving from the Yang to the Yin, which is what needs to happen to fall asleep.

Anyway, I don’t suppose this works for everyone – perhaps you need a fertile imagination – and there have certainly not been any clinical trials to support its use – but at least it is not likely to be fatal!

Written by Vimalaprabha


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