Case Study: Insomnia

My last three articles have been about sleep - quantity, quality and specific acupuncture points to improve sleep. I noticed with my patients that we tend to take the role of sleep for granted. Sleep-related problems exacerbate about 1 in 3 of the cases I come across in my practice. These issues include reduced pain tolerance, menstrual irregularities and lowered immune function. The following is a case where my acupuncture treatments helped an individual improve their sleep and ultimately help them function better.

A 33-year old female designer attended my practice in 2017 complaining of insomnia that had been ongoing for less than a year. She struggled in both falling and staying asleep, where it took her up to an hour to fall asleep and would wake up at least once a night to urinate. Her usual bedtime was approximately 10 pm and would wake unrefreshed at 5:30 am. She would occasionally dream about work-related events and also noticed that she could be easily disturbed by light or sounds when sleeping. She did not want to take sleep medication due to its side effects, so instead sought out acupuncture.

When asking about her stress levels, she said she didn't feel stressed when at work and wasn't currently going through any personal issues. Instead, she found that she would be more engaged and motivated when working on challenging projects. She had noticed that in the past few months, she was catching colds quite easily and had been taking supplements to minimise the duration and severity of these colds.

Physical assessments were also conducted, including abdominal palpation, tongue and pulse. When palpating this patient's abdomen, her solar plexus (upper abdominal region) was abnormally tight. Her tongue showed she had a slight purple-red body with teeth marks and irregular central cracks. Her pulse was slightly rapid and wiry.

My diagnosis for this particular patient was stress-induced insomnia (Liver Qi stagnation, Spleen Qi deficiency, Lung Qi deficiency and Heart Blood deficiency). Despite the patient having a perceived level of low stress, the physical assessments contradicted this. A tight solar plexus, combined with a wiry pulse, are generally physical manifestations of chronic high-stress levels.

This phenomenon is akin to a frog in boiling water - a frog will immediately jump out of a boiling pot, but if you place the frog in cold water and slowly increase the temperature to boiling, the frog remains in there until it is too late. Essentially, this patient acclimatised her mind and body to demanding work events and projects and had not recognised that she was under a lot of stress.

The acupuncture treatment protocol was to improve sleep, reduce stress and strengthen her immune system. The points used were Kidney 27, Conception Vessel 17, Stomach 25, Spleen 15, 6, 10, Liver 8, Large Intestine 11, Pericardium 6, 7, and Kidney 3.

After the sixth acupuncture treatment, my patient reported her sleep had improved significantly, where she was able to fall asleep faster and stay asleep throughout the night. In order to help her maintain her health and wellbeing, she continues to receive acupuncture treatment every 2-4 weeks to help reduce her stress, regulate her sleep and strengthen her immune system.

If you or your loved one is struggling with sleep issues and would like to find out more about how acupuncture may help, please contact me via jeanniejinkim@gmail.com.