The benefits of acupuncture for quality sleep
When you think of acupuncture, do you have funny faces or a smile? Having dozens of needles inserted all over your body may not be the most appealing way to relax, but research shows it can be great for promoting sleep.
In this article, I will explain how acupuncture can help you sleep. First, I’ll explain what acupuncture is before discussing how it can help treat sleep disorders such as insomnia and sleep apnea.
Note: These general recommendations should not be taken as medical advice. If you have any health questions regarding sleep, consult your doctor or a qualified healthcare practitioner.
Acupuncture is a form of alternative medicine that has been around for over 3000 years. It originated in China before becoming popular in Europe and the Americas between the 1500s and 1800s. (1) Jamie Bacharach, Dipl.Ac, Chief Licensed Medical Acupuncturist Acupuncture Jerusalem says the theory behind acupuncture is that it corrects any imbalance in a person’s energy flow, called Qi (pronounced “chee”).
David Goldstein, acupuncturist and certified herbalist at Leominster Healthcare Acupuncture explains that Qi circulates in specific and designated channels throughout the body called meridians. Each of us has 12 meridians associated with a specific organ. Needles are placed in specific meridians to help promote Qi by stimulating these points.
According to Dr Tom Ingegno, a doctor of acupuncture and Chinese medicine at Charm City Integrative Health, acupuncture can help a wide variety of conditions. For example, acupuncturists use it to treat nausea, fibromyalgia, asthma, lower back pain, osteoarthritis, sleep problems, etc. (2In fact, the World Health Organization (WHO) claims that acupuncture can be used to treat 64 different conditions. (3)
Types of acupuncture
Modern medical acupuncture, one of the most common forms of acupuncture, involves inserting hair-like needles into the skin to stimulate certain parts of the body, called acupuncture points (or acupuncture points). Here’s how acupuncture treatment works:
- Your acupuncturist asks you about your medical history.
- They can examine the shape, color and coating of your tongue.
- They are checking your pulse.
- If necessary, they perform additional physical examinations such as palpation of the abdomen or acupuncture points, or range of motion tests.
- Using this information, they recommend treatment.
- Once treatment has started, you lie down on a treatment table while acupuncture points are stimulated on specific parts of your body; most people are unlikely to feel the needle inserts.
- The needles remain in place for five to thirty minutes, depending on the severity of the conditions and the style of acupuncture performed by your practitioner. (4)
According to Jamie Bacharach, there is no single acupuncture treatment, especially for the treatment of sleep disorders. She says, “Moxibustion, a practice of burning dried mugwort at particular acupuncture points in the body, and electroacupuncture, which involves stimulating acupuncture needles with an electric current, can both be be very effective in improving sleep. “
Dr Lev Kalika, owner of NYDN rehabilitation, recommend Japanese acupuncture for sleeping. He says it’s because the needles tend to be thinner or smaller and are inserted less deeply than some other styles of acupuncture.
Acupuncture for sleep
According to David Goldstein, traditional Chinese medicine considers sleep to be a product of the mind and spirit. These are associated with the heart and the liver, respectively. When there is an imbalance with the heart or liver, you may have trouble falling asleep. Traditional Chinese Medicine uses acupuncture to help you sleep by stimulating these areas and correcting this imbalance.
Current medical research claims that acupuncture can help treat a variety of sleep disorders. Let’s take a look at a few.
Acupuncture for insomnia
Dr Kalika says that traditional Chinese medicine considers insomnia to be an energy imbalance that can be corrected by using acupuncture to nourish the mind. Unlike many sleeping pills that treat insomnia, acupuncture has few side effects. (5) For people with insomnia, acupuncture can help improve the quality of their sleep and help them stay asleep longer. It does this by increasing the amount of y-aminobutyric acid in your brain to help you sleep. (6)
Acupuncture for Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA)
People with OSA are at risk of their tongue falling back into their mouth and blocking their airways while they sleep. Research shows that acupuncture can strengthen the tongue, which can help prevent the tongue from blocking air flow. (7) Plus, acupuncture can help reduce breathing problems that people with OSA may have at night. (8)
Acupuncture for Restless Leg Syndrome (RLS)
RLS causes people’s legs to move uncontrollably, which can make it difficult to fall asleep and sleep. Acupuncture helps people with RLS sleep better by stimulating the parts of the brain involved in RLS and its associated muscles (9), which can reduce the severity of the disease (ten).
Acupuncture for Stress / Relaxation
If you are stressed, acupuncture can help you relax. (11) Dr. Ingegno says acupuncture can lower your levels of cortisol, a hormone found in people with high stress. Reducing this level helps you relax and fall asleep.
Acupuncture for pain
Acupuncturists use the treatment to reduce pain, especially in people with osteoarthritis, headaches, or lower back pain. (12) But this is not guaranteed to relieve pain, as the evidence is mixed. (13)
Jamie Bacharach says that acupuncture can help reduce your sensitivity to pain and promote relaxation. She says it’s because it triggers neural pathways in the brainstem, which release chemicals (like serotonin) that promote sleep and reduce pain.
Tips for sleep in addition to acupuncture
Apart from acupuncture, there are many ways to promote better sleep.
David Goldstein recommends relaxing before bed by doing something relaxing, like reading or meditating. He also suggests drinking herbal tea an hour before bed, as it can promote sleep.
According to Dr. Ingegno, you should stick to a regular wake / sleep time, keep your bedroom dark, and avoid screens at least two hours before bedtime. Jamie Bacharach agrees, adding that it’s important to sleep on a comfortable mattress to get quality rest.
Sleep hygiene can also help improve the quality of your sleep. Sleep hygiene refers to your sleeping environment and the behaviors surrounding your bedtime routine and overall sleep health. Here are some of the best sleep hygiene practices to consider:
- Create a peaceful sleeping environment using a white sound machine (only if there is noise preventing you from sleeping), aromatherapy diffuser, or air purifier
- Keep the bedroom for sleep and sex only, which signals your brain that this is usually a place for sleep
- Avoid stimulants such as caffeine, nicotine, and alcohol at least three hours before bedtime
- Exercise regularly to get sleepy sleep
- Take a hot bath in the evening to relax
- Avoid intense conversations before bed as this can cause stress
- Wash your sheets every week
Last word from Sleepopolis
Acupuncture may not be the first treatment that comes to mind for getting better sleep, but it is worth considering, especially if you have stress, RLS, insomnia, or apnea. sleep prevents you from sleeping well.
Remember, we are not medical experts, so be sure to speak to your healthcare provider if you have any medical questions.
- Zhuang, Y et al. History of acupuncture research. International Journal of Neurobiology. 2013.
- “Acupuncture.” John Hopkins Medicine. https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/wellness-and-prevention/acupuncture
- Naik, P et al. Acupuncture: an alternative therapy in dentistry and its possible applications. Medical acupuncture. December 1, 2014.
- “How Acupuncture Can Relieve Pain and Improve Sleep, Digestion, and Emotional Well-Being.” UC San Diego School of Medicine. https://medschool.ucsd.edu/som/fmph/research/cim/clinicalcare/Pages/About-Acupuncture.aspx
- Zhang, M et al. Efficacy and Safety of Acupuncture for Insomnia. Medicine (Baltimore). November 11, 2019.
- Huijuan, C et al. Acupuncture for the treatment of insomnia: a systematic review of randomized controlled trials. Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine. November 2009.
- “Acupuncture for Sleep Apnea.” American Sleep Apnea Association. https://www.sleepapnea.org/treat/sleep-apnea-treatment-options/acupuncture/
- Wang, L et al. Acupuncture for obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) in adults: a systematic review and meta-analysis. International BioMed Research. March 5, 2020.
- “Restless Leg Syndrome and Traditional Chinese Medicine”. Pacific College of Health and Science. https://www.pacificcollege.edu/news/blog/2014/09/06/restless-leg-syndrome-and-traditional-chinese-medicine
- Huang, K et al. Acupuncture for restless legs syndrome. Medication. January 2020.
- Sparrow, K et al. Does acupuncture reduce stress over time? A clinical study of heart rate variability in hypertensive patients. Medical acupuncture. October 1, 2014.
- Hayhoe, S. Insomnia: Can Acupuncture Help? Pain management. August 31, 2016.
- “Relieving Pain with Acupuncture.” Harvard Health Publishing. June 15, 2016. https://www.health.harvard.edu/healthbeat/relieving-pain-with-acupuncture
Paul is the co-founder of Ten Fifteen Communications, where he helps small businesses grow through marketing. He is also married to a woman who is admittedly smarter than him, and he has a young son who is not (yet) smarter than him.