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Auricular Therapy to Promote Sleep

Insomnia can be viewed as a disturbance of the brain that is overly stimulated by stress, environment, medication and other health problems. In traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), insomnia belongs to a shen (spirit) disorder which is attributed to various organ disharmonies.

The ears are not just isolated hearing organs; they are closely connected with the internal organs. For example, a healthy kidney system ensures the ears are able to hear sounds accurately while a weakened lung system causing qi deficiency can lead to deafness. Among the six yang meridians, the small intestine, triple burner, gallbladder and large intestine meridians enter or branch out collaterals into the ears; the stomach meridian runs across the ear front; while the bladder meridian runs across the top of the ear. Moreover, even though the six yin meridians have no direct links with the ears, but they have branches which communicate with the six yang meridians, and thus also connect to the ears indirectly. TCM regards the auricular region as an important body part for clinical diagnosis and treatment, and stimulating the points on the auriculars can achieve general or local effects.

 Auricular points for insomnia
Auricular points for insomnia

Auricular therapy has long been used in TCM; physicians have created a variety of methods to stimulate the region such as acupuncture, moxibustion, massage, compression, suppositories or herbal powders. These methods are used in tandem with other treatment modalities.

For insomnia, the usual method of auricular stimulation is by acupuncture, pressing and blood-letting. Auricular points that help calm the spirit and promote sleep are the heart (50), spleen (48), kidney (59), shen men (33), brain (21), central rim (20), occipital (22) endocrine (46), and sympathetic nerve (31). See the graphic for references.

Acupuncture stimulation
Select 2-3 auricular points on one side of the ear. Sterilize the ear and stimulate with 0.5cm needles. Insert a needle into the cartilage and then twirl rapidly for 30 seconds, be careful not to penetrate through the ear, retain the needle for 10-20 minutes to enhance stimulation or to facilitate further manipulation. Do this every two days, 10-20 times as one course, and rest for one week before the next course.

Pressing stimulation
Select 2-3 auricular points on one side of the ear. Sterilize the ear and put magnetic patches on the points. Individuals should press on the patches frequently, especially after meals and before sleep, for 5 minutes each time. The pressure should be sufficient to make the areas turn red, and feel heat and pain. Change the patches and side every two days. In stubborn cases, physicians may suggest a compress/patch with herbal seeds like cowherb seed and radish seed, or a small pill like the Six Ingredients with Magical Effects Pill (liu shen wan) or borneol crystal, on both back and front surfaces of the auricular points for stimulation.

Borneol crystal

Blood-letting stimulation
Sterilize the ear and use a needle to prick the ear lobe, then squeeze the ear lobe gently to release 4-5 drops of blood, then press the punctured point with a clean swab to stop bleeding. This can be done twice a week; prick on alternative side each time. Individuals with bleeding problems, anemia, hypotension or pregnant women are advised not to use this technique.