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Chinese External Herbal Remedies for Insomnia

Herbal pillows and sachets | Topical herbal dressings | Herbal foot baths

In traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) theory, our body consists of a giant web called the meridian system that distributes the fundamental substances over the body. Along the channels, acupoints are the sites where the qi of the organs and meridians infuse onto the body surface, and simulating these points help regulate the corresponding organs or meridians and promote the recovery of internal disharmonies.

To treat insomnia, regardless of cause, the basic principle is to resume harmony between the body and mind, so that a natural rhythm of sleep and waking can return. An external herbal remedy is an effective and easy way to relax and induce sleep. The selected herbs are made into a paste, powder, solution, medicinal wine or essential oil. The active components of the preparations are absorbed through the skin or acupoints and transmitted by the meridian system to finally work on the target organs.

Herbal pillows and sachets to promote sleep

Appropriate bedding promotes a restful night and ensures that the body maintains a healthy vitality. Herbal stuffing used to make pillows and sachets are natural sedatives, as the selected herbs are mostly aromatic and are able to remove blockages, calming and relieving the stress in the body.

Prescription (1):
Chrysanthemum (100g), magnetite (100g), albizia flower (100g), tuber fleeceflower stem (100g), common rush (30g), clove (30g), acorus (60g), polygala root (60g), Indian bread with pine (60g), sandal wood (10g) and borneol (10g). See the graphic When seriously disturbed by dreams, add fossil bone (100g) and oyster shell (60g). Grind the ingredients properly.

Prescription (2):
Bamboo shavings, chrysanthemum, mulberry leaf, peppermint, oriental arborvitae leafy-twig, Dahurian angelica root, Sichuan lovage, schizonepeta herb, peony root bark and magnetite. Mix equal amounts of each ingredient and crush them slightly. See the graphic

Prescription (3):
Peppermint, chrysanthemum, lophatherum herb, sweet wormwood herb, fortune eupatorium herb and tuber fleeceflower stem, 30g of each; fossil bone, oyster shell, and ochre minerals, 30g for each; Sichuan lovage, Dahurian angelica root, Chinese nardostachyos root, vitex fruit, costustoot, silkworm dung, tangerine peel and atractylodes rhizome, 10g each; Manchurian wildginger, acorus, Chinese honeylocust abnormal fruit and borneol, 5g each. Mix and grind properly. See the graphic

Mix all the ingredients together, place in a cloth bag and sew up the end, tuck inside a pillow or cushion to give off a gentle fragrance during the day or while sleeping. These mixtures need renewing after several months. The room temperature should be around 25-30°C.

Age, body type, specific health problem, and even season of the year should be considered when selecting herbs.

Considerations Suitable ingredients
Yin deficiency with virtual fire mung bean, black soybean
Yang hyperactive selfheal fruit spike, silkworm dung
Ear ringing or poor hearing magnetite
Blurred or poor vision chrysanthemum, tea leaf and cassia seed
Nervous debility or heart problems Amber, Chinese arborvitae kernel
Hot summer bamboo shavings, gypsum

Topical herbal dressings to promote sleep

The prescribed herbs are ground or extracted, made into a paste and applied to areas like the navel, soles or palms to induce sleep. By stimulating the specific acupoints of the various regions, a medicinal effect infiltrates the skin and reaches the meridians, activating qi movement and promoting internal balance.

Important body points for TCM external herbal remedies.

Dressing for the palms:
Prescription: fossil bone (20g), amber (5g), pearl (4.5g), golden thread rhizome (5g) and pinellia tuber (10g). Grind into a fine powder and put aside. Every night before going to bed, take 3-4g of the powder and mix with an oral solution called Fresh Bamboo Juice (xian zhu li ye) or just tap water, paste on the centre of both palms, cover with swabs and fixed in place. Afterward, press with fingers on the area for 30 minutes each, keeping the dressing overnight. Apply for 20 days as one course. In the centre of the palm, an acupoint called lao gong (Pc 8) belongs to the pericardium meridian, it works with the ingredients to calm the spirit and promote sleep.

Dressing for the umbilicus:
Prescription (1): Red sage root (20g), sulfur (20g), polygala root (20g) and acorus (20g). See the graphic

Prescription (2): Acorus (10g), turmeric (10g), immature bitter orange (10g), Chinese eaglewood (10g), sour jujube seed (10g) and amber (10g). See the graphic

Prescription (3): Medicinal evodia fruits (100g). See the graphic

Grind the above ingredients into a fine powder and put aside. Every night before going to bed, take 5g of the powder and mix with a small amount of rice wine into paste form, fill in the navel (or umbilicus) and then cover by gauze or tape. The umbilicus is known as shen que (Cv 8), which is an important acupoint along the conception vessel, works with the ingredients to calm the spirit and induce sleep.

Dressing for the soles:
Prescription (1): Arisaema with bile (10g), Sichuan lovage (30g), golden thread rhizome (20g). See the graphic

Prescription (2): Golden thread rhizome (30g) and Cassia bark (30g). See the graphic

Grind the ingredients into a powder and put aside. Every night before going to bed, mix 5g of the powder with honey, paste it on the soles of the feet, and then cover by gauze or tape. There is an acupoint named yong quan (Ki 1) in the centre of the soles, which is an important point along the kidney meridian. It works with the ingredients to promote communication between heart and kidney, and calms the mind.

Wet dressing on the forehead:
Prescription (1): Magnetite (20g), Indian bread with pine (15g), schisandra (10g) and prickly acanthopanax root (20g). See the graphic Boil the magnetite with 1500 ml of water for 30 minutes, then add in other ingredients, boil for 30 minutes and filter out the solution.

Prescription (2): Pinellia tuber (12g), poria (9g), tangerine peel (9g), arisaema with bile (9g), acorus (9g), polygala root (9g), lophatherum herb (9g), immature bitter orange (6g), liquorice root (6g, processed with honey). See the graphic Boil the ingredients with 1000ml of water for 30 minutes and filter out the solution.

Every night when in bed, soak the gauze in the warm solution and use it to cover on the forehead and eyes. This method stimulates and harmonizes the meridians and soothes the mind.

Herbal foot baths to promote sleep

The feet are the end of three yang meridians (stomach, gall bladder, bladder), and the start of three yin meridians (spleen, liver, kidney). There are more than sixty acupoints located on each foot, and appropriate stimulation on them can activate the flows in the meridians, and enhance body functioning. In modern understanding, soaking the feet dilates the local blood vessels, induces blood flow downward, which relieves the congested state of the brain and relaxes the mind to prepare for sleep. Foot-soaking remedies are not only for relieving foot strain, but is also a simple and effective way to promote health.

Insomnia prescription for foot bathing

Prescription (1): Magnetite (50g), sore jujube seed (30g), Chinese arborvitae kernel (30g), tuber fleeceflower stem (15g) and angelica root (20g). See the graphic

Prescription (2)”GMagnetite (50g), chrysanthemum (15g), baical skullcap root (15g) and tuber fleeceflower stem (15g). See the graphic

Boil the above ingredients, and soak the feet for 20 minutes in the solution every night before sleep. The ingredients help calm the spirit and promote a restful sleep.

Insomnia accompanied by irritability

Prescription: gambir vine stem (20g) and borneol (3g). Crush the gambir vine stem, place the ingredients in a gauze bag and put in a basin with hot water. Stir slightly to let the active ingredients release properly. When the water becomes warm, insert the feet and soak for 15 minutes. Soak twice a day, in the morning and before sleep.

Insomnia accompanied by hypertension

Prescription: Magnetite (30g), abalone shell (30g), astragalus root (20g), angelica root (20g), cassia twig (20g), eucommia bark (20g) and caltrop fruit (20g). See the graphic Crush magnetite and abalone shell properly and boil with 3000ml of water for 30 minutes, then add the other ingredients and boil for another 30 minutes more before filtering the solution. Pour the solution into a basin, cool down for a while and soak the feet in it for 30 minutes, keep the solution at 40-50°C while soaking.

Insomnia due to mental fatigue

Prescription: Polygala root (20g), golden thread rhizome (10g), poria (20g), acorus (20g) and pilose asiabell root (20g). See the graphic Place the ingredients in a gauze bag and then place in a basin with hot water; when the water turns warm, insert the feet and soak for 30 minutes.

Sleep disturbed by dreams and early awakening

Prescription: Frankincense (15g), sour jujube seed (30g), angelica root (30g), fossil bone (50g), schisandra (10g), rehmannia root (50g) and red sage root (50g). See the graphic Boil the above ingredients, and soak the feet in the solution for 30 minutes.

For individuals who prefer a whole body treatment, they can also enjoy herbal baths, saunas or steam methods. The heat of the water helps release the properties of the herbs, and also opens the skin pores, which facilitate the herbs being absorbed through the skin and so into the bloodstream, benefiting both the mind and body.