Sleep is important, and yet so many of us struggle to get enough. It is thought that as many of 1 in 3 of us experience insomnia, a condition of unsatisfactory sleep, whether that be due to difficulty falling asleep, waking early or through the night, or shallow restless sleep. We need sleep for its restorative powers, both physically and mentally. The body carries out many healing and maintenance processes while we sleep. Not only can sleepless nights leave us fatigued and cognitively impaired throughout the day, but long term lack of sleep can be associated with mood disturbances, a reduced quality of life and can predispose us to illness. Sleeplessness is one of the most debilitating and demoralizing symptoms we can experience.
All is not lost. Acupuncture is a fantastic treatment for insomnia. Trouble sleeping is one of the most common problems that clients come to us with. Even in people who do not recognize or mention sleep as a problem, acupuncture has a tendency to produce more restful nights. This often goes unnoticed until asked about on a follow-up visit. We often hear people say: “You know, now that you mention it, I have been sleeping a lot better since I started coming for acupuncture.”
Acupuncture has an extremely calming effect on the nervous system, and over time, it can help to correct the imbalances causing insomnia without creating side effects. In fact, besides improved sleep, people often report a greater sense of well-being and an overall improvement in health.
From a Chinese medicine perspective there are a number of well established patterns which explain why the mind refuses to close down at night even though the person is physically exhausted. Insomnia doesn’t have a single specified treatment, and each person who cannot sleep does so in a way that is unique to them. Diagnosis will focus on the individual, understanding their particular experience and treating accordingly.
Often, patients come to an acupuncturist reporting insomnia because of other emotional issues they are facing. These emotions can often surface as insomnia, anxiety, or mild depression. As the stresses of modern life take their toll, our minds can no longer relax and our sleep becomes disturbed. In these cases treatment will be focussed on addressing and releasing these emotions.
See here a BBC news interview with an acupuncturist and GP explaining the benefits of acupuncture for insomnia: http://youtu.be/XqlgDQgLUgI
In a study conducted at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health in Toronto and published in the Journal of Neuropsychiatry and Clinical Neurosciences, researchers found acupuncture to be an effective treatment for anxiety and insomnia.
The researchers wrote that five weeks of acupuncture treatment was associated with a significant nocturnal increase in endogenous melatonin secretion and significant improvements in polysomnographic measures of sleep onset latency, arousal index, total sleep time, and sleep efficiency. Significant reductions in anxiety scores were also found. “These objective findings are consistent with clinical reports of acupuncture’s relaxant effects,” they concluded.
Other studies have confirmed that acupuncture treatment normalizes melatonin production for insomniacs.
Studies have found that acupuncture increases certain central nervous system hormones, which may explain why there is such a positive association between insomnia and acupuncture therapy in research studies.
The British Acupuncture Council has a fact sheet on insomnia with further research, click here to view.
What you can do
Alongside having acupuncture treatment there are a number of changes you can make to improve your sleep. here’s 5 top tips:
- Exercise: ideally every day. This positive stress will tire out your body in a good way. However make sure you exercise long before going to bed (preferably at least 3 hours) so that your nervous system has time to settle down
- Don’t work before bed: Excessive thinking at night can over-stimulate your mind causing insomnia. Phones and computer screens also emit ‘blue light’ which suppress sleep hormones. Stop work at least 2 hours before bed to allow your mind to relax
- Food & drink: Don’t drink caffeinated or alcoholic beverages near your bedtime, try and avoid caffeine after lunch, and avoid large meals for a couple of hours before bed
- Quiet the Mind: Wind down by reading or bathing before bedtime. Try breathing exercises, meditation, and other forms of relaxation to help your insomnia.
- Keep on schedule: go to bed at the same time every night. Our natural body clock means that sleep hormones will be released at the right time as long as we keep to a routine
To find out more about how acupuncture could help you have a better nights sleep, get in touch for a chat or drop us an email
The People’s Acupuncture Project, Exeter