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Natural Sleep Solutions: How Acupuncture Tackles Insomnia

Sleep is essential to our wellbeing but, ever since our lives have become more fast-paced, it has become more common for some of us to start struggling with Insomnia.

What is insomnia?

Insomnia is a sleep disorder characterized by persistent difficulty falling asleep, staying asleep, or both, despite having the opportunity for adequate sleep. This results in impaired daytime functioning, such as fatigue, mood disturbances, difficulty concentrating, and other physical and mental health problems.

What are the different types of Insomnia?

There are two primary types of insomnia:

Primary insomnia: Sleep problems are not directly associated with any other health condition or problem.

Secondary insomnia: Sleep problems are a symptom or side-effect of another problem, such as health conditions (like asthma, depression, arthritis, cancer, or heartburn), medications, or substances like alcohol.

Insomnia can also be classified by its duration:

Acute insomnia: A short-term issue that can last for a few days or weeks. It’s usually caused by life circumstances, like receiving stressful or bad news, traveling, or other temporary stresses on one’s body or environment.

Chronic insomnia: A long-term problem that persists for at least three nights a week for three months or longer. It can result from a variety of factors, including longstanding life stresses, nighttime routines or habits that disrupt sleep, or certain chronic health conditions.

insomnia and acupuncture

What are the symptoms of Insomnia?

As Insomnia can appear under many different forms, those who suffer from it may experience any, or more, of the following symptoms:

  • Difficulties in drifting off to sleep;
  • Broken sleep;
  • Very early awakenings;
  • Poor sleep quality, which results in feeling tired even upon awakening
  • Ongoing worries about sleep

It is also not uncommon for Insomnia sufferers to experience day-time repercussions, such as:

  • Extreme fatigue and/or persistent tiredness;
  • Memory loss;
  • Depression;
  • Anxiety
  • Increased errors or accidents
  • Difficulty paying attention, focusing on tasks, or remembering
  • Tension headaches
  • Distress in the stomach and intestines

How can you treat insomnia?

Treatment for insomnia can involve behavioral therapies, medications, or a combination of both. Improving sleep habits, such as maintaining a consistent sleep schedule, creating a comfortable sleep environment, and avoiding heavy meals, caffeine and electronics before bedtime, can also be beneficial for people with insomnia. If you suspect you have insomnia, it’s essential to consult with a healthcare professional for an accurate diagnosis and appropriate treatment recommendations.

In the lightest cases of Insomnia the use of natural supplements, such as: 

  • Passionflower;
  • Valerian;
  • Chamomile;
  • Melatonin;
  • Melissa

Can provide some respite, when this condition becomes debilitating, Anxiolytic or Hypnotic drugs (Benzodiazepines in particular) can be prescribed, albeit for short periods of time and strictly under medical supervision, to avoid addiction and other possible side effects of this category of drugs.

How does Acupuncture work on Insomnia?

Acupuncture acts mainly by providing a strong sense of relaxation capable of putting you in a state conducive to sleep. It seems like a trivial matter, but in reality, needles can cure insomnia in a stable and lasting way because they act on deep mechanisms. In particular, they stimulate the central nervous system and those substances produced by the body called neurotransmitters, rebalancing those responsible for the problem.

Clinical research has shown that acupuncture in particular is able to effectively treat insomnia through the:
– Increase in endogenous melatonin levels
– Stimulation of endogenous opioid secretion
– Increased brain levels of nitric oxide which helps promote normal function of brain tissues and may improve sleep
– Increased cerebral blood flow
– Reduction in the activity of the sympathetic nervous system, inducing relaxation
– Regulation of neurotransmitter levels such as serotonin, dopamine, noradrenaline, in order to promote relaxation and reduce tension

Does Acupuncture work for Insomnia?

Acupuncture, a traditional Chinese medicine practice, has been explored as a potential treatment for insomnia. Several studies and reviews have investigated its effectiveness, and here’s a summary of the current understanding:

Evidence: Some studies and systematic reviews suggest that acupuncture can be beneficial for individuals with insomnia. Improvement in sleep quality, duration, and reduced nighttime awakenings have been reported in some research.

Mechanism: While the exact mechanisms remain unclear, it’s hypothesized that acupuncture might stimulate the release of neurochemicals like melatonin or endorphins, modulate autonomic nervous system activity, or regulate the circadian rhythm—all of which can influence sleep.

Safety: Generally, acupuncture is considered safe when performed by trained professionals. Few side effects have been reported, especially when compared to potential side effects of some pharmaceutical treatments for insomnia.

Combination with other treatments: Some studies have found that combining acupuncture with other treatments, such as herbal medicine or cognitive-behavioral therapy, can be more effective than using acupuncture alone.

Limitations: Not all studies are in agreement about the effectiveness of acupuncture for insomnia. Some reviews and meta-analyses indicate mixed results or stress the need for larger, high-quality randomized controlled trials to establish definitive conclusions.

Individual variation: Like many treatments, the effectiveness of acupuncture can vary among individuals. What works for one person might not work for another.

Acupuncture is also a valid approach. Clinical research has shown that Acupuncture can increase endogenous Melatonin (the sleep hormone) levels.

What is the scientific evidence for  acupuncture in the treatment of insomnia?

A 2009 review, based upon 46 studies and 3811 patients, highlighted Acupuncture treatment benefits as opposed to no treatment and found no significant differences between Acupuncture and Pharmaceutical therapy with regards to sleep duration.

This review found that combining pharmaceutical treatments with acupuncture was more effective than using pharmaceuticals alone. Additionally, a 2016 meta-analysis of 30 studies involving 2,363 patients showed that acupuncture was more effective than pharmaceutical treatments. Importantly, no significant side effects from acupuncture were reported in either study.

Two additional studies focused on three patients with severe insomnia who declined pharmaceutical treatment. These studies used polysomnography, the most precise test for diagnosing sleep disorders, alongside symptom monitoring. The results showed a marked improvement in all three patients one and three months after receiving acupuncture. Furthermore, one of these patients showed no significant relapse even a year after the treatment.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) indicates that while acupuncture has shown potential in treating insomnia, its full effectiveness is yet to be conclusively proven. Similarly, a 2017 review titled “Insomnia: can Acupuncture help?” suggests that due to acupuncture’s high safety profile, it could be a viable non-pharmaceutical option for treating insomnia, even though definitive evidence is still lacking.           

In summary, acupuncture shows promise as a treatment for insomnia and has a good safety profile. However, more high-quality research is needed to firmly establish its effectiveness. If someone is considering acupuncture for insomnia, it’s essential to consult with a healthcare professional and consider treatment from a certified acupuncturist.  

Medelit provides at-home acupuncture treatments conducted by certified and registered acupuncturists who specialize in addressing insomnia. Their expertise ensures you receive quality care in the comfort of your own home, eliminating the need to travel to a clinic and offering a more personalized treatment experience.

With such comprehensive evidence and Medelit’s unparalleled convenience, embracing better sleep is just a call away.

Sourced References:

  • Spence DW et al. highlighted how acupuncture might enhance nocturnal melatonin secretion, thereby alleviating insomnia and anxiety. Read the full article here.
  • For a comprehensive understanding of acupuncture’s role in insomnia treatment, delve into Zhao K’s review here.
  • Cao H et al.’s systematic review sheds light on multiple randomized controlled trials that explored acupuncture for insomnia. Dive deeper here.
  • Investigate the influence of acupuncture on sleep quality in Shergis JL et al.’s systematic review here.
  • Get insights from a report by Mandıroglu S and Ozdilekcan C, which offers a polysomnographic evaluation of two chronic insomnia cases treated with acupuncture here.
  • Zhang W et al. present a compelling one-year follow-up case report on acupuncture as a primary treatment for chronic insomnia. Access the details here.
  • If you’re still wondering about acupuncture’s potential for insomnia, explore Hayhoe S’s piece, “Insomnia: can acupuncture help?” here.

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