Chinese medicine and the pursuit of a good night’s sleep | Health

It’s mid-afternoon on a balmy spring day at the Artemisia Clinic in Taos. Dr. Clara Wetmore, Doctor of Oriental Medicine, treats Amy Dondanville, who has trouble sleeping. Soothing music and fragrant herbs in neat rows surround the well-lit clinic’s treatment table.

Wetmore consults Dondanville and then checks his pulse in various places on his body, asking questions in a calm voice: “What is your stress level? Energy level?” She asks how much caffeine Dondanville consumes.

Dondanville is experiencing a high level of stress, as she has just returned to work as a clinical social worker after a three-week absence. She reports that she doesn’t sleep well and feels more frantic, like she’s running from the adrenaline that’s causing her to crash. She cut most caffeine from her diet, drinking just one cup of black tea a day.

As Dondanville relaxes on the treatment table, Wetmore places needles in various parts of his body: his forehead, wrist, abdomen, and lower legs. “I place needles at specific points along relevant or affected meridians, depending on symptoms, presentation and pulse diagnosis. Each point has unique indications, and I choose the points that address or address symptoms and underlying health conditions,” Wetmore explained. Today, she inserts needles to help calm the mind, as well as reduce racing thoughts, anxiety, pain and insomnia. As the needles are placed, Dondanville explains that she doesn’t feel any pain, although sometimes she does experience a sensation.

Wetmore uses another tool, known as an ear or ear seed, which is a tiny stainless steel pellet with a latex-free adhesive patch. Ear seeds are a type of auriculotherapy rooted in Chinese medicine. They are intended to promote comfort and relaxation and have become very popular in the West in recent years, despite some disagreement among medical professionals about their effectiveness. Sometimes Wetmore uses gold pellets, depending on the treatment, or even small pellets with crystals on top that look like small earrings if brought by a patient.

Wetmore cleans and disinfects the ear, then places the tiny pellets on specific spots in the left ear that are sensitive, indicating a problem somewhere in the body. Dondanville will wear them for a week, after which they will fall off or she will take them off. Ear seeds do their job in place, says Wetmore, and their effectiveness can be increased by periodically pressing them. “Right now, I’m placing an ear seed to regulate the nervous system and treat a point of insomnia,” she explains. “I also checked the liver spot, which is usually aggravated by stress, but that spot wasn’t sensitive, so I’m moving on to the heart spot which calms the mind.

Dondanville has difficulty switching off and falling asleep, which is her most common sleep problem, although she sometimes wakes up in the middle of the night and has trouble falling back to sleep. She usually comes every week, but since she’s out of town, it’s her first date in almost a month. She says, “I have had chronic sleep problems since I was a child; it has always been a struggle for me. The practice of coming in regularly allows me to connect with my body and talk about what is going on specifically with my digestion, sleep, mood and energy levels. The act of reflecting is itself useful. When I access treatment regularly, I find that I can fall asleep with great ease, which I was not able to achieve before.

Wetmore also gives Dondanville a Chinese herbal sleep formula. At the start of treatment, she was taking three to four doses per night and this was reduced to one or none. “That’s what I want for all of my patients: to get to the point where their body remembers how to sleep without outside help,” says Wetmore.

Dondanville has been seeing Wetmore for about two and a half years. She sought help from Wetmore for another problem, but thanks to comprehensive check-ups at each appointment, the two discovered the extent of Dondanville’s sleep disturbances. “The practice of attending appointments and engaging in reflection created a sense of mindfulness and awareness of what is happening outside of appointments and brought a deeper sense of noticing what routines and habits nourish my body and which ones harm them”, explains Dondanville.

When asked what advice she would give to people struggling with sleep issues, Dondanville recommends people become aware of content that negatively stimulates the brain, whether it’s watching TV, listening to audio recordings or scrolling through the phone.

According to a Harvard Medical School study, the blue light emitted by smartphones “can affect your sleep and potentially cause illness”. The study notes a well-known fact about the brain – that the absence of light signals to the brain to stop for sleep and the presence of light triggers wakefulness. As such, turning off any bright lights before bed can help people get deeper sleep. Conversely, exposure to daylight upon waking can boost alertness and mood.

Wetmore added: “I would suggest that people establish a routine that tells the body it’s time to head to sleep, which could be stretching, taking a bath or shower, or applying a cream to nourish the body. body.”

Sleep Disorders and Effective Treatment

Wetmore opened his practice five years ago. She earned a Master of Science in Oriental Medicine from Southwest Acupuncture College in Santa Fe and is state licensed and nationally certified. For best results, she sees patients regularly, but even a single treatment can help. A new patient who was skeptical about acupuncture came to Wetmore for help with her racing thoughts. Wetmore treated her with acupuncture, ear seeds and herbal formula. When Wetmore saw the patient next, she had gone from about an hour a night to seven hours of sleep. “Sometimes it’s dramatic like that, and other times it can take weeks or months to see results like hers,” says Wetmore.

More than 100 different types of sleep disorders have been identified, according to the Sleep Foundation. Wetmore sees a lot of that in his clinic. “People come to me with sleep issues ranging across the insomnia spectrum; some who can’t fall asleep, some who can’t stay asleep or wake up too early, some who are light sleepers, some who suffer from crippling nighttime anxiety, some who can’t turn their minds off at night,” she says. “Some patients get a few minutes of sleep a night – or none at all – some for a few hours and some just don’t get enough for their particular needs. Causes range from sleep disturbances due to hormonal changes of menopause or perimenopause, which account for about half of his patients, while others suffer from stress, anxiety, trauma, grief, pain or Other problems. Sometimes there is no obvious cause.

“Because sleep disorders are so unique to each individual, being able to tailor acupuncture treatments and herbal formulas to each patient’s needs is extremely important in my work,” says Wetmore. “My goal is to regulate the sleep cycle so patients don’t need to take herbs and supplements indefinitely to get a good night’s sleep. It’s like giving a gentle nudge and reminding the body to remember how to do such a basic and necessary regeneration process on its own. Another advantage is that I spend a lot of time with each patient, so I really get to know each person’s life, physical health and emotional health, which gives me the idea to treat very specifically.

As part of her approach, Wetmore checks all medications the patient is taking to make sure there won’t be any interactions between the medications and the herbs she recommends for sleep. In addition to making nutrition recommendations, Wetmore refers patients to other needed services, such as therapy, meditation, exercise, primary care, and other physicians.

When asked how his approach was different from that of a doctor, Wetmore said, “In some ways my approach is probably not that different from Western medicine; we all try to help people feel better and use the tools, knowledge and skills we have. I have tremendous respect for my fellow physicians, and although people don’t always expect it, I am very supportive of Western medicine and science and love working in tandem with other health care providers. my patient.

The questions of how much sleep we need as humans and the impact of lack of sleep on our health have been the subject of many studies over the past few years. In his 2017 book, “Why We Sleep,” Matthew Walker, Ph.D., professor of neuroscience and psychology at UC Berkeley and director of the Center for Human Sleep Science, reports that two-thirds of adults in developed countries not getting the recommended eight hours of sleep. Through his research, he was the first to show that insufficient sleep depresses the immune system, doubles the risk of cancer, increases weight gain and is a key factor in determining whether or not a person will develop the disease. Alzheimers. To learn more and see tips for better sleep, visit There are also several free podcasts featuring Walker that expand on his research.