Scientists find a traditional Chinese herbal complex to be effective for treating insomnia

Researchers from Huazhong University of Science and Technology have found that using Jiao-Tai-Wan — a herbal decoction used in traditional Chinese medicine — can promote better sleep. The finding, published in BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine, supports the traditional use of the plant as a therapeutic agent for insomnia and its accompanying complications. In the study, the team explored how Jiao-Tai-Wan affects sleep using animal models that have been subjected to sleep deprivation.

“We established a rat model of chronic partial sleep deprivation (PSD) and investigated the effects and mechanisms of JTW [Jiao-Tai-Wan] on sleep structure, inflammation, and IR [insulin resistance],” the researchers wrote in their report. “The result showed that JTW could significantly improve sleep quality [as well as] attenuate sleep loss-related inflammation and metabolic disorders.”

For the study, the team first studied the primary components of Jiao-Tai-Wan. In traditional Chinese medicine, Jiao-Tai-Wan is also known as the Communicating and Tranquilizing Pill. It has two main ingredients: goldthread rhizome and cassia bark. The herbal medicine is used to treat conditions like irritability, insomnia, and symptoms brought about by menopause. In the study, they noted that the medicine has been prescribed for treating insomnia since the ancient times because of its two ingredients. Goldthread (Huanglian in Chinese) clears away heart fire, while cassia bark (Rougui in Chinese) warms kidney water — both of which are essential for addressing insomnia and its other sleep deprivation symptoms. Earlier studies on the efficacy of Jiao-Tai-Wan have found that it is one of the most prescribed formulas for insomnia. It has also exhibited the ability to lower blood sugar by inhibiting glucose production.

To test the efficacy of Jiao-Tai-Wan, the team subjected rats to constant environmental noise, which resulted in chronic partial sleep deprivation. The rats in the experimental group were then treated with Jiao-Tai-Wan for four weeks, with the researchers taking note of biological markers for sleep deprivation, as well as inflammation and insulin resistance. The link between sleep and insulin resistance (a precursor for Type 2 diabetes), in particular, is established: Poor sleep habits, the most common cause of sleep loss, can lead to hormonal imbalance. This means that the body releases less insulin, which can make regulating blood sugar difficult. It also increases the amount of cortisol (or the stress hormone) in the body, which makes it difficult for insulin to do its job properly.

Aside from the damage that it does to the hormones, sleep deprivation also increases a person’s appetite, while reducing his level of satiety (that is, feeling full after a meal) — which can lead to overeating or indulging in cravings. If sleep loss is chronic, increased appetite can cause obesity — which is another factor for Type 2 diabetes. The effects may look serious; however, if sleep deprivation is addressed immediately, these symptoms can be reversed.

The researchers measured whether Jiao-Tai-Wan was effective in improving symptoms of insomnia using biological markers for sleep, inflammation, and insulin sensitivity. They found that Jiao-Tai-Wan increased sleep time for rats in the experimental group and reversed inflammation and insulin resistance from sleep loss. According to the researchers, the ability of the decoction to manage sleep comes from modulating circadian clock, that is, the body’s sleep/wake cycle, and regulating inflammation gene expressions. (Related: Research: Sleep loss degrades the blood-brain barrier, allowing toxins to invade and kill neurons. Here are three things to do immediately.)

Natural ways to sleep soundly

Aside from Jiao-Tai-Wan, there are other ways to get a good night’s rest without relying on potentially dangerous drugs. The first thing a person should consider is his bedtime routine. Most times, adjusting seemingly minor habits or things can help the person achieve better sleep.

  • Check your bed. Oftentimes, a worn-out mattress is the culprit behind a sleepless night. Are you physically uncomfortable when you sleep? Is your mattress too firm or too soft? Are your pillows making it difficult to rest your head? Considering these questions can prove to be useful for improving sleep in the long run.
  • Drown out the noise. For a bedroom to be noisy, it doesn’t have to be loud. In most cases, a jangling sound is all it takes to keep a person from sleeping soundly at night. To mask these disruptive noises, consider purchasing a white noise generator for calming sounds that help you sleep better.
  • Stay away from your phones. Turning off the phone an hour before sleep (or better yet, keeping them out of the bedroom) is one of the best ways to treat the worst offender when it comes to sleep habits.

Learn more on how traditional Chinese medicine helps manage chronic conditions at

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