With increasing stress levels and a faster pace of life than ever before, insomnia and sleep disorders are worryingly common. An increasing number of people are facing recurrent sleepless nights, and the number of prescriptions written for sleep medication is skyrocketing. But if you are one of those people struggling with insomnia and you are wisely hesitant to take medication due to its side effects and addictive nature, you may find help with acupuncture and Chinese medicine.
Chinese medicine acknowledges the vital importance of deep, restful sleep for physical, emotional and mental wellbeing. Sleep is critical to maintain the correct flow of Qi and a body in harmony. From a Western perspecive, poor sleep causes the body to over-produce stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline, which causes people to be anxious and more aggressive. Increased levels of cortisol due to stress and poor sleep is also linked to a suppressed immune system, high blood pressure and weight gain.
A number of clinical studies have shown positive effects in acupuncture treatment of insomnia (1, 2, 3, 4, 5). Some of the studies have even demonstrated that acupuncture treatment was more effective than pharmaceutical medication used in the treatment of insomnia, with measurements including improved sleep quality and vitality, as well as decreased daytime dysfunction and sleepiness (1, 2). Another recent study showed that acupuncture combined with Western medicine improved sleep quality more than Western medicine taken by itself (3). Clinical trials have also have looked at insomnia combined with other conditions, such as depression or menopause, and have still found acupuncture to be helpful (3, 4). Finally, research has shown that true acupuncture is more effective than sham acupuncture in improving sleep quality and psychological health for insomnia patients, addressing the placebo argument (5).
Chinese Medicine views insomnia as a symptom of imbalance in the mind and body. The most common organ/meridian system affected is the Heart, which in TCM governs the mind and spirit. However, other organ systems may be involved, for instance the Lung, Liver or Gall Bladder. Some people have no trouble falling asleep, but may wake at a specific time and not be able to get back to sleep. Others have difficulty falling asleep, or might have very light or dream-disturbed sleep. Each individual will have a different way they experience insomnia, and so a Chinese medicine approach to resolving their sleep issues will take this into account to address their individual pattern.
Acupuncture has been used very effectively for thousands of years to treat insomnia, and does not cause any addiction or side effects so worryingly common with prescription sleep medications. In addition, people who use acupuncture to treat insomnia often find that they will see an overall improvement in their physical and mental health. As with all things TCM, acupuncture for insomnia does not just treat the symptom of disturbed sleep, but will address the root disharmony in the body causing the condition, which flows on to provide health benefits in all areas.
Unlike what is commonly found in Western medicine, there is no one 'prescription' for using acupuncture and TCM to treat insomnia. Treatment of insomnia is complex and the practitioner will use a different combination of acupuncture points specific to the individual patient's sleep disruption. Just as no two instruments will vibrate at exactly the same frequency and produce exactly the same sound – so too each person's body is considered unique with its own individual resonance and Qi flow. Therefore there are many different ways that an acupuncturist can treat sleeplessness, depending on the needs of the patient.
Take into account that acupuncture does not present any potentially harmful side effects and it seems clear that acupuncture can offer those struggling with their sleep a real solution for deep and restful sleep. Contact me to find out about how acupuncture can help you sleep peacefully again.
1. Complement Ther Med. 2016 Jun;26:11-20. doi: 10.1016/j.ctim.2016.02.007. Epub 2016 Feb 18.
2. Int Rev Neurobiol. 2013;111:217-34. doi: 10.1016/B978-0-12-411545-3.00011-0.
3. Biomed Res Int. 2017;2017:9614810. doi: 10.1155/2017/9614810. Epub 2017 Feb 14.
4.. Sleep. 2017 Nov 1;40(11). doi: 10.1093/sleep/zsx153.
5.. Sleep Med. 2017 Sep;37:193-200. doi: 10.1016/j.sleep.2017.02.012. Epub 2017 Mar 8.
If you liked this article, you might want to read our "10 Self-help tips for Insomnia" article, or our "Self-help tips for insomia - free download".
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