The most well-known and widely used formula for insomnia in the Chinese medical canon. With a history stretching back around 2,000 years to its first mention in Eastern Han Dynasty (25–220 AD) physician Zhang Zhongjing’s classic clinical tome, The Treatise on Cold Damage and Miscellaneous Disease, Suan Zao Ren Tang (SZRT) is a time-tested and highly effective remedy for insomnia.
Insomnia comes in many forms: in The Treatise on Cold Damage and Miscellaneous Disease, SZRT is indicated for “insomnia with agitation due to taxation.” In modern terms, this indicates insomnia where one is fatigued and tired, but unable to fall asleep due to racing thoughts and anxiety. SZRT helps to quell the restless mind and calm agitation in the body.
Modern studies have lent further credence to the ancient understanding of SZRT’s sleep-promoting effects. A 2015 randomized, parallel-control trial by Hu et al. found SZRT to be more effective at reducing insomnia severity than Lorazepam (Ativan), a common benzodiazepine sleep medication. Of course, SZRT also does not have the difficult withdrawal symptoms associated with Lorazepam either. A 2011 clinical study by Yeh et al. found SZRT significantly improved all aspects of sleep quality in a four week trial. There was a 37.5% improvement in subjective sleep quality, 25% for sleep latency, 25% for sleep duration, 38.9% for habitual sleep disturbances, and 40% for daytime dysfunction.
The centerpiece of SZRT is the herb Suan Zao Ren (sour jujube seed). Animal studies have found that Suan Zao Ren has powerful sedative and anxiolytic effects. In mice models, Suan Zao Ren prolonged sleep time and increased the sleep rate through its regulation of GABA.
Apart from Suan Zao Ren, SZRT also features the powerful sedative mushroom, Poria Cocos or Fu Ling. In animal studies, Poria was found to significantly improve sleep quality and sleep structure. Notably, the study also found that Poria could combat the effects of caffeine: mice that were given Poria after caffeine fell asleep faster and stayed asleep longer than those who got caffeine but were not administered Poria.
While some TCM formulas for sleep include sedative herbs, the main focus of these formulas is to restore the normal circadian flow of qi and blood through the body. As such, they may not provide the instant groggy, sedating feeling of western sleep drugs, but they help restore the body’s natural rhythm and internal signaling after a period of use, which allows the sleep-wake cycle to naturally reset. These formulas also do not result in any next day drowsiness as a side effect. After a period of taking this, the integrity of this cycle is restored and there is no longer a need to take any sleep medicine.
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Instructions: Take 6 small pills each time, 3x daily (18 pills total) with warm water. Note: pills are tiny and go down easily with water.