Friday 18th of March 2022 World Sleep Day, is an annual event held to raise awareness of the importance of sleep, it is organized by the World Sleep Day Committee of World Sleep Society and “aims to lessen the burden of sleep problems on society through better prevention and management of sleep disorders. World Sleep Day is held the Friday before Vernal (Spring) Equinox of each year.” [www.worldsleepday.org]
Can acupuncture help with insomnia? Certainly from my own experience of over 25 years in practice I will say definitely yes. Frequently clients comment on how much better they have slept after treatment – even some who had not previously considered insomnia to be an issue!Acupuncture relaxes the sympathetic nervous system (fight or flight) and supports the parasympathetic (rest and restore) function enabling relaxation and sleep.
“Acupuncture is believed to stimulate the nervous system and cause the release of neurochemical messenger molecules. The resulting biochemical changes influence the body’s homeostatic mechanisms, thus promoting physical and emotional well-being. Stimulation of certain acupuncture points has been shown to affect areas of the brain that are known to reduce sensitivity to pain and stress, as well as promoting relaxation and deactivating the ‘analytical’ brain, which is responsible for insomnia and anxiety” [British Acupuncture Council www.acupuncture.org.uk Hui 2010].
Research, particularly controlled trials on this subject is limited and not always of the best quality, however two examples cited below support the strong anecdotal evidence of practitioners and patients that acupuncture is helpful in treating insomnia.
Luo WZ et al. [Effect of acupuncture treatment of relieving depression and regulating mind on insomnia accompanied with depressive disorders]. Zhongguo Zhen Jiu. 2010 Nov;30(11):899-903.
Sixty-five patients with insomnia and depression were randomly divided into an acupuncture group and a western medication group (oral Trazodone). After 4 weeks treatment the cured/markedly effective rate in the acupuncture group was superior (73% v. 47%). Total scores of the Pittsburgh Sleep Quality Index and the Self-Rating Depression Scale were significantly reduced in both groups, but sleep quality and daytime function improved more with acupuncture than medication. The latter showed higher levels of side effects. Acupuncture treatment is superior to Trazodone for sleep quality and daytime function, with milder adverse reactions.
Reza H et al. The effect of acupressure on quality of sleep in Iranian elderly nursing home residents. Complement Ther Clin Pract. 2010 May;16(2):81-5. 90 elderly patients with moderate to marked sleep disturbances were randomly assigned to acupressure, sham acupressure or a control group. There were significant differences between the acupressure groups and control group in subjective sleep quality, sleep latency, sleep duration, habitual sleep efficiency and sleep disturbance; there were no significant differences in sleep indices between the sham and the control. Sleep log data showed a significant decrease in nocturnal awakenings in the acupressure group compared to the other two. The findings indicated that acupressure has an effect on improvement of sleep quality and can be endorsed for sleep-disturbed elderly people
Insomnia is a condition of chronic insufficiency in quantity and/or quality of sleep, this includes difficulty falling asleep, difficulty staying asleep and early final wakening. NICE (the National Institute of Clinical Excellence who advise the NHS) say patients should be given lifestyle and well-being advice to encourage healthy sleeping habits and that non-pharmacological interventions, should be offered for the management of persistent insomnia. Expert bodies have long advised that use of hypnotics (sleep inducing drugs) for insomnia shouldbe limited to short courses for acutely distressed patients (Joint Formulary Committee 2009).
Hypnotics can provide relief from the symptoms of insomnia, but do not treat any underlying cause. Despite this, in England, around 10 million prescriptions for hypnoticsare dispensed every year,and many patients remain on the drugs for months or years.Such prescribing carries many potential hazards for patients,including risk of dependence, accidents and other adverse effectson health (Joint Formulary Committee 2009).
Acupuncture can potentially offer an holistic and health enhancing alternative to long term medication use in the treatment of chronic insomnia. Although it is important to say long term medication must never be suddenly discontinued, reduction should be undertaken gradually and under appropriate medical supervision.
Not keen on needles? They are very fine (hardly thicker than a human hair), and acupuncture treatment is comfortable and relaxing. But for those still unconvinced Acupressure and traditional Tui Na massage offer an alternative, combining the generally relaxing benefits of massage with work on specific acupuncture points and channels.
If you are interested in finding out more about how acupuncture or acupressure may be of help with insomnia (or any other aspect of health and wellbeing) please contact me for a free no obligation chat.