Acupuncture and Insomnia:
An Effective Solution
Ian Delaney, LAc MAOM
Lying awake at night with racing thoughts? Tossing and turning with that all-too-familiar restlessness? Waking at an awful hour and wishing you could just go back to sleep for a few more Z’s?
Meet insomnia, a common companion for many in the modern world.
Affecting 1 out of 3 people, you are not alone if you are impacted by sleep difficulties. This leaves us with the desire to rest more than what is currently possible in our packed and often hectic lives. Some try the route of prescription sleep meds, which can help in short-term and acute situations. However, Acupuncture, Chinese Herbal Medicine, Naturopathic Medicine, and the incorporation of lifestyle changes are a far better approach as they address the underlying causes of illness.1
Multiple studies have confirmed the efficacy of acupuncture and the treatment of insomnia. According to Shawn Stevenson, author of Sleep Smarter: 21 Essential Strategies to Sleep Your Way to a Better Body, Better Health, and Bigger Success, a comprehensive study by the Department of Radiology at San Gerardo Hospital in Monza, Italy, determined that 60% of patients with sleep disorders had improvement after only two weeks of acupuncture:
“They determined that the acupuncture point for treating insomnia was the HT 7 point—the point at the intersection of the hand and wrist closest to the body,” says Stevenson. “In a double-blind study, manipulation at this point resulted in increased urinary melatonin metabolites.”2
Not only can acupuncture improve the number of hours one sleeps, but it is also able to improve the quality of one’s sleep. Another study published by the National Institute of Health (NIH), indicates that acupuncture can increase the content of γ-amino butyric acid, which enhances sleep quality.3
Unlike the current western medical perspective which views insomnia as a disease, Chinese Medicine views insomnia as a symptom which constellates to a number of precise diagnostic patterns and corresponding forms of treatment. Knowing that someone has difficulty sleeping is just the tip of the iceberg for an acupuncturist. Acupuncturists require a series of questions around one’s current lifestyle, the nature of their sleep issues (i.e. difficulty falling vs. staying asleep, nightmares, vivid dreams, waking unrested, etc.). We also inspect the patient’s pulse and tongue that are to accurately diagnose the pattern of illness that the patient is presenting with. When treating a patient with the understanding of the underlying pattern, not only is the insomnia addressed, but other symptoms also tend to fall away. This occurs due to treatment of the patterns of disharmony, which the symptoms are only a part.
Examples of some of the patterns and presentations of insomnia from a Chinese perspective include:
- Kidney yin deficiency– difficulty falling asleep, restless sleep or be awake off and on all night accompanied by night sweats.
- Liver qi stagnation- wake pretty regularly between two and 4 a.m. or have difficulty falling asleep.
- Heart and Gallbladder qi deficiency– frequent waking, often “waking with a start”, usually caused by recurrent bad dreams. These individuals startle more easily.
- Stomach heat– insomnia with bloating, epigastric distension and fullness and possibly acid reflux, fitful sleep and profuse dreaming or waking in the early hours with difficulty falling back to sleep. Individuals with this particular pattern may also experience dizziness, heaviness of the head, fullness/discomfort of the chest and stomach, belching and copious phlegm.
There are many more patterns that include insomnia; these are just a few of them in order to give you an idea as to how we categorize insomnia from an eastern perspective.
Just as the diagnoses for insomnia are specific to the individual, so too are the acupuncture treatments and herbal formulas that your acupuncturist would perform and prescribe to address the specific concerns that you have.
The effects of acupuncture are cumulative. Meaning, each treatment builds on the previous one and has a longer-lasting and stronger impact than sporadic treatment or a one-time implementation of acupuncture.
If you’re struggling with sleep disorders and are looking for an evidence-based method of treatment, acupuncture and herbal medicine might be just the ticket to a longer and more satisfying night of sleep.
Give us a call today at 503-287-4970 and schedule your acupuncture appointment.