Objectives: To evaluate the traditional use of Chinese herbal medicine (CHM) for insomnia in pre-contemporary times.
Materials and methods: The Encyclopedia of Traditional Chinese Medicine (fifth edition) was systematically searched using seven Chinese medicine disease nomenclatures to identify insomnia citations. Citations were coded, and frequently used herbal formulae specific for insomnia were analyzed.
Results: Insomnia treatments were mentioned in 940 citations, and insomnia diagnosis treated with Chinese herbal formulae was specifically described in 800 citations. The traditional use of CHM appeared to be individualized based on the cause, pathogenesis, phase, phenotype, demographics, and concurrent medical conditions of insomnia. The most common herbal formulae for insomnia included Wen dan tang, Suan zao ren tang, Ban xia shu mi tang, and Gui pi tang. The most frequently cited herb was suan zao ren (Ziziphi spinosae semen).
Conclusions: A number of herbal formulae for insomnia were cited in the historical literature. The commonly cited formulae such as Wen dan tang and Suan zao ren tang are consistent with current clinical practice and are good prospects for further therapeutic development.
Keywords: Chinese herbal medicine; clinical evidence; historical literature; insomnia.