Studies Reveal How Acupuncture Can Effectively Treat Insomnia
When thinking of ways to fall asleep, poking yourself with needles most likely won’t show up in the first 400 ways that may come to mind.
However, those who practice Chinese medicine would think it one of the most reasonable actions when not catching zzzzz’s.
In fact, more and more studies are showing that not only does acupuncture treat insomnia, but also those factors that also cause it.
What is Acupuncture?
Acupuncture is a form of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) based on the belief that energy, called your chi, flows through the body along pathways called meridians. When you feel pain, discomfort, or experience illness, it is believed that your chi is blocked or unbalanced.
Acupuncture, the practice of having very thin needles put into your body at specific points, is considered to encourage the energy to flow freely again.
One of the interesting things about Chinese medicine is that patients pay their practitioners to keep them healthy rather than to treat their sickness. Also, in TCM, illnesses, like insomnia, are not seen as diseases or illnesses, but as symptoms of dis-ease in the body. So rather than treat the symptom, practitioners of TCM dive deep to dislodge the actual problem in the body.
According to an article published in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine, “Acupuncture may represent a unique avenue of treatment for poor sleep by virtue of its direct effects on peripheral nerves and muscles, which, in turn, modulate autonomic tone and central activation.” Acupuncture was found to not only help in falling asleep but prolonged sleep duration and increased sleep efficiency. In fact, some reports show that acupuncture has a nearly 90% success rate in treating insomnia.
An additional study conducted on HIV patients with insomnia found that after five weeks of treatment, there was an improvement in not only sleep activity, but sleep quality as well. It is believed that sleep was easier due to stimulation of pain management and sleep hormones.
So, exactly how does acupuncture treat insomnia? Let’s look at a few of the ways it stimulates sleep in the formerly sleepless.
Three Ways Acupuncture Reduces Insomnia
1. Acupuncture increases sleep and pain management hormones.
Studies have shown that acupuncture increases certain central nervous system hormones such as beta-endorphins, serotonin, ACTH, and noradrenaline. These hormones are important because they are directly related to falling and staying asleep.
Beta-endorphins relate directly to pain management. Many people cannot fall asleep due to pain. Acupuncture increases beta-endorphins, which reduce pain and discomfort in those who experience pain related insomnia like those with Restless Syndrome.
Serotonin is a natural mood stabilizer and regulates sleep. Acupuncture has been shown in multiple studies to increase bodily serotonin levels. Serotonin relaxes the body and promotes sleep.
Adrenocorticotropic Hormone (ACTH) is a paramount part of the circadian system, which is also known as our body’s internal clock. It ultimately decides when we wake and when we sleep. ACTH levels are high in the morning and low in the evening in a person who achieves healthy sleep. It works opposite of melatonin, which is the hormone that lowers the body’s temperature and induces it to sleep. Things like stress and jet-lag can raise ACTH levels in the body. Acupuncture has been shown to reduce ACTH levels at the CV-4 acupuncture point, thus helping to normalize the circadian system and promote regular sleep.
Noradrenaline is also famously known as one of the major stress hormones best know as the “fight or flight” response. If there is too much noradrenaline in the body, insomnia can very likely happen. Acupuncture has shown to reduce noradrenaline so that the body can get and stay in a restful state.
2. Acupuncture increases melatonin secretion.
Melatonin controls the sleep and wake cycle. Light, specifically lack of light, predominantly controls how much melatonin the body produces. The less light there is, the more melatonin the body makes. Melatonin makes body temperature drop in preparation for sleep.
In a study at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health in Toronto, researchers found acupuncture to be an effective treatment for insomnia and anxiety. They found that five weeks of acupuncture treatment was linked to a significant nocturnal increase in endogenous (internally or organically caused) melatonin secretions.
A study conducted at the Department of Radiology in San Gerardo Hospital, Italy, showed that 60% of patients with a sleep disorder improved after two weeks of acupuncture. The researchers determined that the HT-7 point was the acupuncture point best for treating insomnia as its stimulation resulted in the production of urinary melatonin metabolites (evidence of natural melatonin in the urine).
3. Acupuncture increases butyric acid in the brain.
In a study reported by the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine (National Institute of Health) shows that acupuncture can increase the amount of γ-amino butyric acid, also known as gamma-aminobutyric acid (GAMA), which enhances sleep quality.
GAMA is an amino acid that is essential for muscle relaxation and sleep. Maintaining optimal levels of GAMA ensures that the body stays in deep or slow-wave sleep long enough for repair and rest. Insomniacs showed to have 30% less GAMA than regular sleepers.
So now that you know how acupuncture works to treat insomnia, you naturally must be wondering how to start using acupuncture to treat insomnia. Here are a few quick steps to starting your way to sleep-filled nights.
Three Steps to Committing to Acupuncture to Treat Your Insomnia
Find qualified acupuncturist in your area.
Go to a qualified website like https://www.medicalacupuncture.org/Find-an-Acupuncturist or https://www.acunow.org/ and search for a trained, experienced, and licensed acupuncturist. Be sure also to read patient reviews and do plenty of due diligence to be sure you are going to a sterile office with a knowledgeable acupuncturist.
2. “Click” with your acupuncturist.
It is important that you trust your acupuncturist. Like any regular practice like therapy or bodywork, establishing a mutually respectful and trusting relationship is key. Acupuncture requires you to be in various stages of undress and be vulnerable for periods of time while you have the needles in your acupuncture points (sometimes for up to 45 minutes). If for any reason you don’t feel comfortable or don’t feel listened to by your acupuncturist, you should find a new practitioner immediately.
3. You need to mentally and physically commit to acupuncture. Most times it takes six or more sessions to see changes.
All studies referencing acupuncture success rates have a committed period in which gains are made. Expect to commit to the practice regularly for results to be seen and maintained. Most studies referenced here were the results of two sessions per week for no less than five weeks. While that may seem like a lot, remember TCM is based on keeping the body healthy which is a daily practice. Acupuncture is one of those maintenance steps to keep the chi in balance and helping to achieve optimal performance.
Now that you know of acupuncture’s high success rates, are you ready to try it? If you have tried it, let us know how it worked for you in the comments.