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SNS Initiated Insomnia


sns initiated insomnia



In the last article (Can Eastern Medicine Treat Insomnia?), we explained in general terms that insomnia may be initiated by either a hyperactive Sympathetic Nervous System (SNS) or an under-performing Parasympathetic Nervous System (PSNS). Today, we will talk in more detail about SNS initiated insomnia, as well as the treatment for it.


But first, it’s helpful to understand the relationship between the nervous system and insomnia, a connection that most people are confused by. Let’s look at two relatable scenarios to highlight the roles of well-regulated sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems in preventing or enabling sleep.


Scenario #1. Imagine that you are hiking, and suddenly come face-to-face with a violent, starving bear. Would you be hungry or able to sleep when your life is at risk? Absolutely not. Your focus would narrow immediately to deciding on how to survive in the situation: fight or take flight. It is your SNS that instantly kicks your body into high performance gear in preparation for both options. It accelerates blood supply to your muscles; thus, increasing your heart rate. As that happens, the volume of blood supply to the less essential gastrointestinal tract drops. That, in turn, suppresses hunger and the digestive function, while your heart and muscles recalibrate to high alert. This SNS activity is vital, as it allows you to physically execute the fight or flight responses needed for survival.


Scenario #2. Now imagine that you have managed to flee to safety from the wild bear. You know that the threat to your survival is gone, and that you can now relax. It is PSNS that steps in to dial down your hyperactive SNS to its normal state. What we experience as we return to the normal state is hunger (digestive tract movement), a slowing of our heartbeat to normal levels, and the desire to sleep again. All healthy and appropriate responses needed for the body to recover from being in the red-alert state while in danger.


In the above situations, the automatic interactions of the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems raise and lower various body functions to the appropriate levels suitable to the moment. In other words, the SNS and PSNS work together to keep us alive and healthy.


Now let’s turn to what happens with SNS initiated insomnia.


Ordinarily, by the end of our day, if the SNS has become over-excited (e.g. anxious or nervous), the PSNS will work to calm sympathetic nerves, allowing night-time sleep. However, sometimes sympathetic nerves remain hyperactive for prolonged periods, and become beyond the ability of the PSNS to control. When this happens, excessive stress is placed on the body. Insomnia and other symptoms result. Typically, the person experiences chest pounding throughout the night and frequent indigestion. Constipation or loose bowels may be experienced as well, and frequent or uncontrollable anger is common. The face flushes easily, and skin issues may arise. Some patients may even vomit.


Fortunately, Eastern medicine is very effective at treating SNS initiated insomnia.


When the sympathetic nerves are hyperactive to such extreme, Eastern medicine calls for the use of the herb called "HuangLian (Rhizoma Coptidis)". This herb is so bitter that there is a saying in China: "Life is as bitter as huanglian." However, it is an excellent medicinal herb for those who carry a lot of stress and anger which, in today's society, is quite common.


If the diagnosis is hyperactive SNS, the method of treatment depends on the accompanying symptoms.


For example,



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Can Eastern Medicine Treat Insomnia?

eastern medicine treat insomnia



Insomnia is an extremely oppressive condition to live with, attacking both our physical and mental well-being. Unfortunately, many people continue to suffer unnecessarily. Their concerns may be dismissed by people who have not personally suffered from insomnia, and who usually fail to fully appreciate just how life-affecting it can be. Some may dismiss the seriousness of insomnia by suggesting that the person cannot sleep because they are not really tired, or do not need to sleep as much. Others simplistically suggest that reading a book before bedtime will enable better sleep. Of course, such advice provides no help.


Insomniacs who seek treatment may be prescribed sedatives, but such drugs can be highly addictive. In addition, patients commonly experience side effects such as dizziness, lassitude and drowsiness throughout their day. Not surprisingly, many people with insomnia choose not to take sedatives regularly or, if possible, avoid them altogether.


Eastern medicine, in contrast, has been used very successfully to treat insomnia, and without any unwanted side effects. The approach is to improve the self-healing ability of the patient. The treatment is as effective as Eastern medicine treatments for other mental health issues, such as anxiety and depression, although the treatment period is typically longer.


More and more patients are visiting our clinic seeking relief from insomnia. Given this trend of growing interest and need, we will be writing over the next few weeks about different aspects of this condition. Today, we will start by sharing the Eeastern medicine approach to diagnosing insomnia, and then describe the three main types of this condition.



tcm for insomnia



When diagnosing insomnia, it is important to first determine whether any physical issues are contributing to sleep issues. If a patient cannot sleep due to physiological pain, then the pain should be addressed as a first step. This is, perhaps, an obvious approach when the patient is experiencing physical pain. But it gets more complicated when the physiological pain is more like dysfunction than clearly experienced pain. Take, for example, the more complicated case of indigestion-related insomnia. Many patients who complain of insomnia have weak digestive systems due, for instance, to over-eating or starvation habits. The point is that we must first identify and treat any physiological causes of insomnia, and only afterwards focus on persisting insomnia.



Once we eliminate physiological pain as a contributing factor, and determine that the issue is solely a sleeping issue, we then categorize the type of insomnia the patient is experiencing from among three broad categories.

  1. Difficulty falling asleep. No matter how tired the person is, they lay in bed for hours before finally falling asleep. Often, they cannot stop overthinking things.
  2. Waking up throughout the night. The person can fall asleep, but frequently wakes up throughout the night. The person will wake up every couple of hours aware of a lot of dreams, and does not feel rested in the morning.
  3. Inability to fall back to sleep once awakened. The person will wake up around 3 to 4 am, and simply space out until they have to get up for work. Many patients with this type of issue dream of staying asleep until daybreak.



The second and third types are both easier to treat and, for the patient, easier to bear. The patient at least has some sense of having been asleep, if not soundly or uninterruptedly.


The first type is by far the most challenging to bear and to treat. We will focus on this type of insomnia for the rest of this post.


Difficulty falling asleep can be caused by either our sympathetic nervous system (SNS) or our parasympathetic nervous system (PNS). Together, these nervous systems form our body’s autonomic (involuntary or unconscious) nervous system, which registers our reactions to stress. When we endure great stress, our SNS goes into overdrive and awakens our mind. The role of the PNS is to counter this hyperactivity, but when it fails to do so, the heightened state of awareness makes it difficult to fall asleep. So, difficulty falling asleep can be caused by either a hyperactive SNS, or a sub-performing PNS.  A hyperactive SNS can be caused when we are very angry, resulting in SNS initiated insomnia. Worry and overthinking affects our PNS, resulting in PNS initiated insomnia. EM seeks to restore balance, so that both the patient’s para- and sympathetic nervous systems are operating in a healthy way, allowing patients to fall asleep.


The inability to fall asleep may also be caused by psychological disorders such as anxiety, which manifests itself in the upper body. Anxiety causes heart disease like symptoms, such as chest tightness and palpitations, and puts our bodies in a nervous state. This prevents us from falling asleep.



In the weeks to come, we will discuss in more detail each of the three types of insomnia and methods of treatment.

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Why are your posture, habit, and lifestyle so important when it comes to pain?


To answer the question, understanding why we have pain is important. Pain is a protective reaction and warning to let us know that something needs correction. Poor posture and overstraining tired and weakens your muscles.






For instance, looking down at your phone for a long time or repeating a motion that can overstretch and misuse your muscles will cause slight tear and inflammation. Our muscles play an important role, not only to facilitate movement but to firmly hold bones, joints, vessels, and nerves in place. As overstraining continues to wear out the muscles and one day, you try to move your neck or back; your joints will trigger the nerves or pull a muscle. This trigger will cause a protective reaction(pain), tightening the surrounding muscles to protect from hurting more.



Pain and Acupuncture


When you look up acupuncture on a search engine, pain relief is most likely the reason to seek acupuncture in Vancouver (apart from fertility). I see patients every day with various pain conditions that affect their daily lives, and they ask me what can be done with the issues.

                 Infographic office syndrome Template Design . Concept Vector illustration

Infographic office syndrome Template Design. Concept Vector illustration



– Working long hours in sitting/standing position
– Studying/typing/ texting with hunched back and turtle-like neck
– Work that involves continuous misuse of the same muscles. (ex. Serving, painting and etc.)
– Lack of stretching/core strengthening exercises
– Diet that lacks sufficient nutrients to nourish your organs, muscles, and tendons
– A poor quality bed that doesn’t support your spine as it should be.
– Desks or chairs that are too high or low.



How many of the above apply to you? Yes, it is true that acupuncture can do wonders to relieve your pain. However, without the efforts to change the derivation of pain, the relief easily becomes temporary. Even if it is work related, there are certainly ways to reduce the harm. For that reason, with each patient under intensive pain care, I go through their posture and give suggestions on daily exercises that can prolong the relief and ultimately eliminate the root of the pain. Lifestyle suggestions vary from patient to patient but there is one rule of thumb to maintain a good posture and make it a healthier habit.


core stability



Sit and stand with core stability!


What is core stability? It refers to one’s ability to control the movement and position of the core. Greater stability you have, you have the greater level of control over other parts of your body, thus lesser chance of misusing and straining your limbs or back during daily activities.
Easily put, tightening your core when you are sitting on the desk or standing up for a prolonged period can prevent your spine from misalignment. When your core is strong and stable, your neck shoulder naturally relaxes and deter you from unconsciously crossing your legs or standing on one leg.
The same rule applies when you are lifting heavy objects or carrying heavy plates on both hands. Contraction of your core muscles keeps your back straight and body weight centered to the ground, preventing you from straining or pulling a muscle in your arm or back.
It’s definitely not easy to constantly tighten your core while sitting or standing for hours, and this change of habit takes at least a few months to get used to. Eventually, however, many patients return to thank the advice and you can goodbye to your pain.





Here are some examples of core stability exercises that you can add to your exercise routine!




5 core stability exercises you need to know


Core Stability: 10-minute workout


Triathlon Core Stability Level 1,2,3,4




Image Reference:

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Back pain? Your “psoas” is stressed!

LBP (lower back pain) accounts for a large number of population in North America. Acute pain becomes a chronic pain, and it often leads up to an irritable, grumpy and depressed character, and I kindly use that as an excuse to keep calm and be nice when I associate with such characters. Why not change up the mind and when you happen to cross someone who is irritable and negative, enlighten the person by offering to see an acupuncturist!


What is frustrating about the back pain is that there are too many cause factors to back pain. Reasons for back pain can range from sleeping on a low-quality mattress to a degenerative spinal disease. It may take months to years to just find out why you have pain in Canada, in which it becomes a waiting game more than a quest for the cure.


As acupuncture has been continuously raising awareness as a fantastic pain-relief treatment method for the past decade, many different approaches have been developed to treat back pain. Amongst all, I would like to talk about a treatment that has often been the solution in the clinic.


Most LBP originates from spinal and pelvic alignment, which can lead to other pain such as neck and shoulder pain, but lower back is usually the main complaint. When you have back pain from lying on your back, it’s most likely your Psoas muscle. The psoas is a deep-seated muscle connecting the lumbar vertebrae to the femur.  This muscle is often called the core muscle because psoas is the only muscle that connects your torso and legs, stabilizing your spine and posture. If your psoas is weak, it will be extremely challenging to do daily exercises.


Here is a classic example of how we commonly stress out (tightens) our psoas. A young female patient visits the clinic with right LBP; the chief complaint is unable to lie down on her back for a prolonged period.  Her right leg was shorter with pelvic elevation on the right. Her work is an office job, and she crosses her leg frequently.


When your psoas tightens, it creates pelvic imbalance because it will cause your pelvis to rotate anteriorly to create more curved hipline from the lower back, also known as Lumbar Lordosis (aka. the duck butt.) The rotated pelvic will pull the leg up, shortening the leg (leg length discrepancy). When this imbalance doesn’t get corrected, pain occurs as a result.

Tight-Psoas-back-pain-300x191 Image Citation

Acupuncture directly treats the psoas and related back supporting muscles which the muscles to relaxed states. Different treatments methods such as upping, stone massage electo-acupuncture are combined to maximize the results! In addition to the treatments, the psoas strengthening exercises are suggested to correct future onsets of pain as preventative measures.


Below are some useful links that can show you how to stretch and strengthen your psoas at home!

Yoga for psoas –

How to release your psoas –

Awaken your psoas





Northrup, Christiane. 2014, “Why psoas muscle is the most vital muscle in your body.” (

Berkley Wellness- University of California. 2016, “Get to know your Psoas.”(

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