A research article about the disease categorization of insomnia in TCM

As we said before, the TCM is a totally different system from modern Western Medicine (WM), especially with the disease categorization.

Here’s a good example for the insomnia disease.

Insomnia, in modern Western Medicine, is just one type of sleep disorder disease.

However, in TCM, it can be divided into many different diseases and have to be treated by different medicines (herbal medicine).

Check this article for more details:

Classification of Insomnia Using the Traditional Chinese Medicine System: A Systematic Review (hindawi.com)


How does TCM categorize the disease? It does have it’s own principle and standard. Quote:

“The recognition of insomnia as a major health problem can be traced back to more than 2000 years ago in ancient Chinese medical texts. Based on the patient’s symptoms and signs, TCM practitioners describe the patterns of bodily disharmony in terms of eight major parameters: yin and yangexternal and internalhot and cold, and excess and deficiency. Additional systems, such as qiblood and body-fluid differentiation, and zang fu (organ) differentiation are also used. The TCM patterns describe differences in etiology and pathogenesis of diseases and emphasize variation in individuals’ body constitution. Although most of the TCM concepts have yet been proven by scientific method, the TCM diagnostic system continues to be practiced nowadays. Treatment principles and specific herbal formula or acupoints are derived according to the TCM pattern. ”


In the insomnia disease, TCM has divided it into about 69 different patterns (i.e. 69 type of disease, but all have the insomnia symptom), among them, 10 mostly seen pattens are:

Liver-qi stagnation transforming into fire

Internal disturbance of phlegm-heat

Liver fire flaming upward

Stomach disharmony

Stomach qi disharmony

Deficiency of both the heart and spleen

Hyperactivity of fire due to yin deficiency

Qi deficiency of the heart and gallbladder

Heart-kidney noninteraction

Heart deficiency with timidity


So, you can feel, how does TCM categorize the disease. It’s not based on the symptom (such as “insomnia”), but based on its cause.

Only when the cause is identified, there’s possibility to get it fixed. Right?


Quote again:

“We found that the terminology relating to sleep-related symptoms in the TCM classification was much more detailed than those used in the Western diagnostic systems. The insomnia symptoms mentioned in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders Fourth Edition and the WHO International Classification of Diseases 10th Edition include difficulty falling asleep, difficulty maintaining sleep, nonrefreshing sleep, and nonrestorative sleep. Although excessive dreaming, awakening with a start and restless sleep were common complaints in individuals with insomnia, they were not utilized in the Western diagnostic systems. Half asleep, going to sleep late at night, insomnia with vexation, and difficulty falling asleep with vexation were seldom mentioned in the Western literature.”


A lot of disease name nowadays are just a symptom name, not really a name of the cause. However, there are typically more symptoms related to one disease. So, if we use TCM as a new method to categorize the disease, you may found that the same herbal medicine may be used to treat the “same disease”, while different herbal medicines may be used to treat “different diseases”.



“It is worthwhile to note that the TCM patterns commonly found in individuals with insomnia are not unique to insomnia. For this reason, it is rather common to find in TCM that different diseases are treated with the same formula or the same set of acupoints, when the underlying pattern is similar. For example, Gui Pi Tang is used for deficiency of both the heart and spleen in insomnia and in dizziness. It is believed that this treatment approach is important for eradicating the underlying cause of diseases”.

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