Can Acupuncture Help With Sleep Disorders?

If you have troubles sleeping well at night, acupuncture is one of the options that could help you.

How many times have you been so desperate to solve some problems that you tried even the silliest alternative solutions that were offered? Well, today we have a not so silly but more of a holistic approach which is not as often recommended as many other treatments, but it still can be helpful to those dealing with sleep disorders. If you are not into sleep pills, melatonin supplements, oils and what else not, here is something that can be beneficial in many ways and that you should try. We have all heard about acupuncture, and know how weirdly it can look. Usually, people say that it is not as painful as it seems, but despite that, not many of us dare to try it out.

Since sleep disorders are a huge issue for many Americans, and we are continually working on finding new solutions to enhance our sleep quality, the studies have been taken to find a connection between acupuncture and sleep. It turned out that it can be helpful, so keep reading to see how.


Brief History of Acupuncture

We have all seen pictures and know how the treatment looks like, but what acupuncture is and how and when did we start healing ourselves with needles?

The practice of acupuncture comes from China, and the first treatments were mentioned in documents dated centuries BC. Something similar was described and dated around 6000 BC when people used sharpened stones and bones for acupuncture treatments or perhaps they were used as instruments for some basic surgical procedures. In a tomb from second century BC in China, drawing of 12 central meridian pathways on the human body was found, another document regarding acupuncture procedure was dated around 100 BC, and it is a book called The Yellow Emperor’s Classic of Internal Medicine. The book is written in the form of a dialog between the Emperor and his minister and contains detailed explanations about meridians through which chi flows.

During the fifteenth century, bronze statues with acupuncture points which were used for practice were depicted for the first time, they were used for teaching and examination and are still in use today. Between 14th and 16th century the Ming dynasty ruled China, during that time a significant publication about acupuncture was published. The Great Compendium of Acupuncture and Moxibustion contains principles of acupuncture on which the modern practice of acupuncture resides. Total of 365 body points was described in this book, and all of them are spots that mark channels through which needles can go through and affect the flow of Qi. Qi, better known as chi, stands for energy flow which is created and accumulated along the pathways that are connecting different acupuncture points on our body. Those pathways or channels are also called meridians, and they connect points between themselves but also connect them with main internal organs.

Although it was always quite intriguing and popular, during the 17th century the interest for acupuncture declined. Many superstitions were attached to the treatment, and it was tagged as irrational. In 1882. with Emperor’s decree acupuncture was excluded from Imperial Medical Institute, and with the rise of Western medicine during the 20th century, acupuncture was even more neglected and got outlawed in China in 1929. But, in 1949. the Communist government revived the traditional medicine including acupuncture, which opened the door to establishing first institutes for acupuncture during the 1950s in China.

During the seventies Americans increased their interest in acupuncture after one member of the US press was treated with acupuncture in China in order to recover from an appendectomy. His acupuncture experience was all over the New York Times, and since it was a successful treatment, the public got interested. After the NIH consensus conference in 1997. acupuncture was finally accepted in the US.


How Does Acupuncture Work?

According to traditional Chinese medicine, our health condition is a result of the harmony between the yin and yang of chi. When these two forces are not balanced, illnesses can occur. Chi flows through the meridians and can be accessed through more than 300 acupuncture points in our body. When our energy flow is not in balance, inserting needles into a compatible combination of points can bring energy flow back to its healthy balance.

Acupuncture points are understood as points in which our nerves, muscles or tissues respond to stimulation. This form of stimulus works in a way that it increases the blood flow, and at the same time it triggers the body’s natural painkillers to activate.

When we go to an acupuncture center, an acupuncturist will first examine our condition, insert at least one thin needle, and provide us with some additional advice on self-care or therapies that can also be beneficial. They will talk with the patients about their symptoms, aches, and health goals. The tongue is often checked as well as some other points on our body, to see if any particular disbalance is going to show off.

Depending on where the needles are going to be inserted, the patient can be asked to lay down on its back, stomach or side. With the insertion of each needle, the patients may feel brief tingling or stinging sensation. All acupuncturist should use disposable, sterile needles for single-use. Once a needle is inserted, there can be feeling of a dull pain at the base of a needle that will quickly go away, but acupuncture is relatively painless. If a lot of redness shows around the place where a needle is inserted that is considered as a sign of disbalance in that area. The needles have to stay in place from 5 to 30 minutes, and sometimes they can be additionally stimulated with heat or electricity. The patient’s condition determines how many treatments will be needed, some acute problems improve after only a few treatments, while chronic conditions ask for one or two treatments each week, throughout a few months.

Once the needles are removed, you can carry on with your daily lifestyle, but it is recommended to do it on a day off if possible, especially if this is your first time visiting acupuncture center because you may feel fatigue. Drinking a lot of water is another recommendation as it improves the process of detoxification.


Acupuncture Points for Insomnia

Insomnia is one of the common sleep disorders known for centuries, even Chinese medicine was aware of it, and they differed a few types of it depending on the symptoms of sleep problem. For example, if you have a problem with waking up too early, that means that the issue is in your kidneys, in other words, the Yin energy is blocked there. Problems with falling asleep usually signalize that your body is unable to relax because Yang qi is blocked from yin qi. If you experience extreme insomnia, you probably have some blood problems in the liver or spleen. If you wake up often during the night, that means that the heat is trapped in your body. Chinese acupuncturists have created a network of acupuncture points that can solve every sleep problem efficiently, and studies have confirmed that. According to Chinese medicine, every sleep problem refers to a unique imbalance of energy, and all of these types of insomnia or other sleep disorders will be treated in different ways, there is no such thing as a universal acupuncture point pattern. Also, one treatment will certainly not be enough, but many patients have reported that besides sleep enhancing they experience a unique feeling of calmness and relaxation every time while their session is on.

Besides points, they also paid attention to the meridians and correlated them too with insomnia symptoms and emotional problems.

  • Stress can cause you to wake up soon after you have fallen asleep, and it is attached to the meridian of the liver.
  • Grief will force you to wake up during the second half of the night, and it is associated with lung meridian.
  • Worrying too much will cause you to wake up every night at an approximately same time, and it has been connected to the spleen meridian.
  • Anxiety can affect falling and staying asleep during the night, and it is connected to the heart meridian.

Some of the acupuncture points that are essential for insomnia are:

  • ST 36 – this point is located on the leg, below the knee, and it helps with increasing the energy of chi and blood boost. In Chinese medicine, it is believed that while we are sleeping the spirit (the Shen) resides in the heart or blood. So it is considered that if the blood is deficient, the spirit will wander and keep us awake.
  • PC 6 – located around three fingers from the wrist crease, it is also known as Nei Guan or Inner Pass. It is essential for insomnia, anxiety and even motion sickness. This point calms the heart and the spirit.
  • HT 7 – this point is also named Shen Men or Spirit Gate, and it is located at the pinky side of our wrist crease. Gates are very symbolic and have a significant role in Chinese medicine if a gate should be opened but it is closed, and vice versa, something is hindering the flow of energy. Closing or opening those gates will bring back the balance, and since this gate is connected to spirit, it directly affects sleep.
  • Yin Tang – this is a point which is not a part of meridians, and it is located right between the eyebrows and is also called Hall of Impression. This calming point is essential for headaches and insomnia as it is believed that it calms the spirit.
  • Anmien – or Anmian, is another extra point which not located on the meridians but is a key point for treating insomnia as it is incredibly calming and it promotes deep sleep. It is also used to help sleepers who have problems with nightmares, restless or interrupted sleep. Located below the earlobe, at the junction of the mastoid process and skull base, Anmien is easily stimulated while the patient is laying on the back.


Acupuncture for Sleep Apnea

Sleep apnea is a disorder that causes sleepers to occasionally stop breathing while they are sleeping and being unaware of their problem. There are several types of sleep apnea, one of the most common types is obstructive sleep apnea, which is caused by a restricted upper airway, while the central sleep apnea happens when our brain fails to send a signal to the lungs that they need to breathe. Regardless of the type, usual symptom of sleep apnea is snoring.

Acupuncture stimulates the muscles of the upper airways since they typically collapse during the episodes of sleep apnea. It also strengthens especially the tongue muscle, so that it cannot subside and block the airways. For severe cases of sleep apnea, patients may be suggested to try out the auriculotherapy acupoint pressure, which is a type of acupuncture which focuses on the outer portion of the ear. For acupuncturist, ear represents a microsystem of our entire body, with a detailed map of body part and organs.

Studies performed by Brazilian and Chinese experts between 2007 and 2015 were putting two groups of sleepers on various trials, and they came to a stunning conclusion that acupuncture could be even more effective than widely accepted CPAP treatment for sleep apnea. But there is still plenty of research to be made to be able to make that claim.

Chinese medicine offers four possible causes of sleep apnea which may interfere: The Spleen, Qi stagnation, Phlegm and Blood Stagnation.

  • The Spleen is believed to turn food into blood and energy, regarding sleep apnea, it may mean that your body is not digesting properly, or that you are eating the wrong kind of food.
  • Qi stagnation can take long periods of time and effect on Spleen, which can then develop tension in muscles or a feel of having a lump in the throat.
  • Phlegm represents what block your nose our collects in breathing pathways, and it is an equivalent of what Western medicine describes as fatty tissue around the throat and larynx.
  • Blood stagnation stops Qi from moving as it naturally should be, especially the flow of chi in our lungs is affected, and that results with sleep apnea.


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