Natural Sleep Herbs:
Insomnia and Dizziness
I am glad you added the 'if you ever need any
help' to your response... I am in need. I have been taking the
herbal preparation that was given to me at the herb shop since
last week as well as drinking the korean Ginseng tea I got there
as well. The herbal prep is Tian Wang Bu Xin Dan.
Today I followed my normal morning routine of
taking the herb mixture at around 8:30 after breakfast and then
having tea a bit later. Around 11:00 I began feeling very dizzy
and by 11:30 felt very odd... I was at work and continued working
to my lunch break. I was sitting at the table of kids I work with
while they were eating and realized that when I looked at the
milk carton in front of me it seemed to be sliding across the
table, which is wasn't actually doing.
As soon as lunch was finished with the kids I
went to the Health Center and rested. The nurse took my BP which
was normal for me, about 108/56. I fell into a deep sleep for
about an hour and woke up feeling much better and have not had
any symptoms for the remainder of the day. I did not take the
noon dose of the herb mixture nor did I drink more tea as I wanted
to check in with you. Any suggestions of what was going on?
Thank you for taking time with this!
Well I'm sorry to hear that after your initial enthusiasm you
had a bad experience. My suspicion is that you were given the
If I were you, I'd check back with the person in the herb store
who prescribed the formula. Find out if she is a licensed acupuncturist...
if she was trained in herbs or not. From your email, it's hard
to tell if it was a health food type store... lots of amateur
"experts" there- some of them do know what they're talking
about - don't get me wrong... I've heard some pretty right-on
things from health store employees. But I don't think it's time
to dispense with formal education yet, and most people have little
appreciation for the power and complexity of chinese herbal medicine.
Tian Wang Bu Xin Dan - Insomnia Herb Formula
Tian Wang Bu Xin Dan is one of a number of standard insomnia
formulas... as with all Chinese Herbal Medicine, we can' t just
prescribe based on one symptom or chief complaint. We consider
your whole health - all your symptoms and signs - and the best
herbalists will modify the basic formula to fit you better. The
goal is to increase healing and prevent the kind of adverse effects
It's the same in western medicine, believe it or not. There's
not just one kind of drug for hypertension... nor is there just
one formula (let alone one herb) for insomnia in Chinese Medicine.
If you had hypertension, your biomedical doc would have to choose
between beta blockers, ace inhibitors, etc. in the light of your
Why Would Insomnia Herbs Cause Dizziness and Visual Disturbances?
As far as your reaction to the herbs, there are a couple of possibilties...
you may have more Spleen qi deficiency than your friend thought.
In that case, the Tian Wang Bu Xin Dan (TWBXD) would be too cloying
(too hard to digest), and could lead to the dizziness you experienced.
Also, the Korean Ginseng could be too hot for you... the combination
of the heat and the cloying herbs could lead to a phlegm rising
pattern which would result in dizziness.
This is the most likely scenario... if your spleen (digestion)
is too deficient to process the herbs, then that would create
dampness/phlegm. The Korean ginseng is hot, and so it could all
"go to your head" so to speak, leading to the dizziness
and visual disturbance. We'll go into this more below.
Another possibility is that since your diastolic BP is rather
low, perhaps you do need the TWBXD but the Korean Ginseng is too
yang and hot for you. For more about who ginseng is and is not
for, read our basic ginseng article.
Sleep Better with Chinese Herbal Formulas
Here are the major insomnia formulas and the patterns
and symptoms they treat:
Symptoms and Signs
(Distinct Symptoms in Bold)
|Tian Wang Bu Xin Dan (Celestial Emperor's
Special Pill to Tonify the Heart)
||Heart and Kidney Yin Vacuity
||Irritability, palpitations, anxiety, fatigue,
insomnia with restless sleep, inability to think or concentrate,
night-time emissions, forgetfulness, dry stool, red tongue
with little coating, thin rapid pulse
|Suan Zao Ren Tang (Sour Jujube Decoction)
||Liver Xue Vacuity with Vacuity Heat
||Irritability, inability to sleep, palpitations,
night sweats, dizziness and vertigo, dry throat and mouth,
dry red tongue and wiry or thin rapid pulse
|Gui Pi Tang (Restore the Spleen Decoction)
||Spleen qi and Heart Xue Vacuity
||Forgetfulness, palpitations, insomnia, dream-disturbed
sleep, anxiety and phobia, feverishness, withdrawal, reduced
appetite, pallid and wan complexion, pale tongue with
thin white coating and thin frail pulse. Women may have
early periods with lots of pale blood or prolonged nearly
continuous periods without much flow.
|Huang Lian E Jiao Tang (Coptis and Donkey
Skin Glue Decoction)
||Breakdown of Interaction between Heart and
||Difficulty falling asleep or insomnia the
whole night, dizziness, tinnitus, night sweats, heat
feeling in the 5 soles (palms, soles and heart), impaired
memory, low back and knee soreness and weakness, seminal
emission, red tongue with little coat, fine rapid pulse
|Ding Zhi Wan (Stabilize the Mind Pills)
||Gallbladder Vacuity and Qi Timidity
||Insomnia, fear of sleeping alone, gallbladder
timidity (lack of "gall"), heart palpitations,
frequent sighing, dizziness, being awoken in a fright,
possible vomiting of bitter fluids, pale tongue with fine
weak wiry pulse
|Huang Lian Wen Dan Tang (Coptis Warm Gallbladder
||Difficulty falling asleep due to severe
restlessness, chest oppression, epigastric fullness, nausea,
vomiting, heavy-headedness, dizziness, bitter taste
in mouth, red tongue tip with slimy yellow coat and slippery
|Xie Qing Wan (Drain the Green Decoction)
||Difficulty falling asleep due to dizziness
and headache, hot feeling in chest with restlessness, impatience,
extreme irritability, chest and ribside distention and
fullness, frequent sighing, thirst, bitter taste in mouth,
red eyes, dark urination, constipation, red tongue
with yellow coat, wiry rapid pulse
|Dao Chi San (Guide out the Red Powder)
||Heart fire exuberance
||Insomnia, restless heat in chest and heart,
thirst with desire for cold drinks, red facial
complexion, sores in mouth or on tongue, short dark colored
urination, red tip of tongue, rapid forceful pulse
|Shu Mi Tang (Sorghum Decoction)
||Insomnia, pain, distention and fullnes in
stomach and abdomen, aversion to food, retching or sour
regurgitation, nausea, thick slimy tongue coat, slippery
|Zhu Ye Shi Gao Tang (Bamboo Leaf and Gypsum
||Damaged Fluids and Retained Heat after Febrile
||Insomnia, fever, profuse sweating,
chest and diaphragmatic oppression, thirst with desire to
drink, always hungry stomach, desire to vomit, red tongue
with little coat, fine rapid pulse
Wrong Pattern = Wrong Formula = Bad Idea
To see how the wrong herbs could mess you up, let's look at the
Phlegm Fire pattern. Huang Lian Wen Dan Tang is an awesome
formula that's based on Er Chen Tang, the basic phlegm-treating
herb formula. These herbs clear out accumulated dampness and phlegm
with their aromatic, moving, and diuretic properties. Wen Dan
Tang means adding Zhu Ru and Zhi Shi to Er Chen Tang. These two
herbs add the ability to clear heat from the Gallbladder and Stomach,
and rectify the qi in the abdominal area. Huang Lian is added
to that to make Huang Lian Wen Dan Tang (HLWDT). Huang Lian clear
Stomach and Heart heat. Overall, this is a really strong formula
to clear out the excess phlegm and heat. However, if you had a
Spleen Vacuity, these herbs would cause you even more digestive
problems. HLWDT is for a clearly excess (repletion) situation.
On the other hand, about one-third of the herbs in Tian Wang
Bu Xin Dan (TWBXD) are cloying (thick, substantial, harder to
digest), and would worsen a damp/phlegm/Spleen deficient
person. We have to be cautious when we prescribe cloying herbs
and make sure their digestion is strong enough. Otherwise, the
Spleen is injured and this leads to more dampness and phlegm.
So, if you had Phlegm Fire and were given TWBXD, you could
experience fullness, bloating, nausea, fatigue, dizziness, or
even slight hallucinations. The last symptom is a result of Phlegm
clouding the Heart. In Chinese Medicine, the Heart is the consciousness
and corresponds to some brain functions.
So the point is- if you get the pattern diagnosis wrong and take
the wrong herbs, they'll mess you up.
Food and Insomnia
A little sidebar- Philippe Sionneau (see the references below)
told me that he believes that food stagnation is an often under-diagnosed
cause of insomnia. I remembered that and when I found myself having
trouble falling asleep and having sour regurgitation, I took some
digestive enzymes (similar to food stagnation herbal formulas)
and went right to sleep!
Overly Simple Solutions Can Lead to More Problems
I also want to warn you against choosing a formula based on just
one symptom (e.g. insomnia, forgetfulness, palpitations, etc.).
This logically will lead to poor results. Chinese Medicine is
based in large part on pattern differentiation- this means finding
out what type of insomnia you have... what symptoms accompany
it? What causes it? Once we know its character and surrounding
constellation of symptoms, we can choose the appropriate herbal
formula (and suggest dietary modifications).
Even choosing the right one of these formulas above is just
a start. Each of these formulas has from 5-15 herbs. The pinnacle
and power of chinese herbal medicine lies in personalization of
the formula for the disease as it manifests now. Your formula
will change as you heal. Herbs are added or taken away from the
formula, and dosages change. The herbal formula should fit you
like a glove.
To make sure you always get the right herbs for your condition,
you should consult with someone who was formally educated in Chinese
Herbal Medicine. You can find such people from my list
I wish you all the best!
Find a licensed acupuncturist
"Resources for Finding Acupuncturists
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