Insomnia – Basics

Insomnia is a condition characterized by difficulty falling or staying asleep. Symptoms of insomnia include sleeping for short periods of time, feeling tired upon waking up, awaking early and difficulty falling asleep. The condition can be chronic (exhibiting symptoms three nights per week for more than a month) or acute (short-term symptoms). Commonly, insomnia is the symptom of a larger health issue (secondary insomnia); however, it can be its own condition (primary insomnia).

Insomnia – Diagnostic Patterns

The Chinese Medicine treatment of insomnia generally involves arriving at the appropriate TCM diagnosis or pattern. This pattern within the individual is what treatment is based on not the general condition. The common patterns for insomnia include: heart fire, heart qi deficiency, liver fire, damp & heat in middle Jiao, Spleen qi deficiency.

Commonly used points include HT7 Shenmen, KI1 Yongquan, KI3 Taixi, SP4 Gongsun, SP6 Sanyinjiao, BL15 Xinshu.

Commonly used formula include: Ganmai Dazao Tang, Gui Pi Wan, Xiao Yao Wan, Suanzaoren Wan.


Acupuncture may be superior to medication. Acupuncture for insomnia is potentially mediated by norepinephrine, melatonin, gamma-aminobutyric acid, and beta-endorphin; weak positive evidence (Zhao 2013 – book chapter)(1)

Acupuncture statistically superior to sham (3 studies) and medication (27 studies); weak positive evidence (Shergis 2016 – SR)(2)


1. Zhao K. Acupuncture for the treatment of insomnia. Int Rev Neurobiol. 2013;111:217-34.

2. Shergis JL, Ni X, Jackson ML, Zhang AL, Guo X, Li Y, et al. A systematic review of acupuncture for sleep quality in people with insomnia. Complement Ther Med. 2016 Jun;26:11-20.