Getting a Good Night’s Sleep, Part 2
I’d like to continue my previous discussion of insomnia by outlining how Western and Asian Medicine categorize sleep disorders. In my next post, I’ll present some general information, from an Asian Medicine approach, about how insomnia is diagnosed and treated with some background on Asian Medicine pattern theory for context.
First, it’s worth noting that both Western medicine and Asian Medicine identify various characteristics of insomnia based on its presentation. However, Western medicine may choose the similar or the same treatments, irrespective of its presentation. For Asian medicine, identifying the specific qualities and characteristics of insomnia (often referred to as the pattern of disharmony) are essential to providing the correct treatment.
On the broader level, it’s valuable to identify whether the insomnia is of a primary or secondary nature. Primary insomnia means that the condition is not associated with another health issue, while secondary insomnia develops because of something else (i.e. depression, asthma, etc.).
In addition to identifying whether the insomnia is primary or secondary, is clarifying whether the problem is transient – lasting only a few days; intermittent – lasting up to several weeks; or chronic. Regarding the first two, transient and intermittent, the insomnia will typically resolve once the stressor is removed or resolves itself. However, patients who suffer repeated bouts of short-term insomnia, or who encounter more significant effects of sleep deprivation should still seek out supportive treatments to correct any underlying issues.
Patients with chronic insomnia are strongly encouraged to seek out treatments as this may result in a number of serious health conditions in Western medicine such as hypertension, obesity, and heart disease. Within the framework of Asian medicine, chronic insomnia is a sign of significant disharmonies that will adversely impact ones health in the long run.
Beyond the broader presentation of the insomnia, it’s time to look at how it manifests within a typical episode of sleep. In this regard, we speak of three ways it may present: sleep onset insomnia, where a person has difficulty falling asleep; sleep maintenance insomnia, where a person wakes repeatedly throughout the night; or sleep termination insomnia, where a patient wakes earlier than desired and is unable to get back to sleep. There may also be a combination of all three.
Other factors surrounding the insomnia, such as the type of dreaming experienced (i.e. vivid dreams), level of restlessness, time and content of evening meals, typical bed-time, etc. will also be explored. All of these issues, as well as other signs and symptoms will assist in identifying the specific pattern of disharmon(y/ies) that may present as insomnia and tailoring a treatment that will address their specific issue.
Individuals suffering from insomnia, whether short-term or chronic are encouraged to speak to both their physician as well as an Asian medicine practitioner to seek potential causes and options for treatment. For some individuals who are suffering significantly from severe insomnia, there are some necessary and effective Western medical treatments available.
However, Asian medicine can also be quite effective in treating sleep-related disorders, and since it is an holistic approach, taking the entire person’s pattern into account (you can think of ‘pattern’ here as a person’s overall “health picture”), individuals can find overall relief for several seemingly unrelated health issues with little to no side effects. This contrasts to the more symptomatic approach of just treating the insomnia.
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