Acupuncture for Insomnia and Sleep Hygiene

Acupuncture for Insomnia and Sleep Hygiene

Acupuncture has been a remedy for insomnia and sleep irregularity in China and the Eastern world for centuries, and in the last few decades it has gained attention in the Western world as a treatment for sleep issues as well.

The Importance of Sleep Hygiene

Sleep hygiene refers to the behavioral and environmental factors that are critically conducive to sleeping well on a regular basis. The importance of good sleep hygiene cannot be overstated, as it directly impacts both physical and mental health. Consistent, high-quality sleep helps in regulating mood, improving brain function, and increasing energy levels, whereas poor sleep can lead to a myriad of health issues including obesity, heart disease, diabetes, and even anxiety and depression. 

In the United States, sleep disorders are alarmingly prevalent. According to the American Sleep Association, about 70 million Americans suffer from sleep disorders, with insomnia being the most commonly reported. Insomnia itself affects 30% of adults in the short term and 10% chronically.(7) Typically, those battling insomnia turn to various remedies ranging from pharmaceutical solutions, such as prescription sleep aids, to natural supplements like melatonin. While these can be effective, they often come with harmful side effects or rapidly diminish in effectiveness over time.

Acupuncture for Sleep Health

Acupuncture has been a remedy for insomnia and sleep irregularity in China and the Eastern world for centuries, and in the last few decades it has gained attention in the Western world as a treatment for sleep issues as well. While many sleep medications and natural supplements lose effectiveness over time and can lead to dependence, acupuncture offers a non-addictive remedy that works to regulate the body’s natural sleep mechanisms while bringing balance to other key systems. These effects then synergize to more effectively ease the mind and body into a state of rest. Since acupuncture treats the entire body, there isn’t a single system left out of sync in the process, maximizing effectiveness. 


When being treated with acupuncture, the body naturally shifts into a parasympathetic state, also known as ‘rest and digest,’ from our sympathetic state, known as ‘fight or flight.’ This transition is accompanied by a flood of beneficial endogenous hormones and chemicals that enhance stress relief, calm the mind and lower blood pressure. This is ideal for treating sleep disorders and far more thorough than any traditional sleeping pills like Zolpidem (Ambien) or Temazepam (Restoril), which only target the brain. Since acupuncture does not suffer from diminishing returns either, these benefits can be relied on time and time again to help ease both mind and body into a state of rest. Acupuncture also helps to balance circadian rhythm, which regulates our body’s internal clock, and can easily be thrown off by factors like shift work, staying up late, drinking too much caffeine or having a poor diet.

How Does Acupuncture Help Regulate Sleep Cycles

How exactly does acupuncture regulate sleep cycles, alleviating insomnia and sleep irregularities? The answer lies in several processes which occur during an acupuncture treatment session, including the release of specific neurotransmitters that promote relaxation and sleep, the balancing of endogenous chemicals and hormones which help regulate our parasympathetic and sympathetic nervous systems, and the natural regulation of other key systems including the cardiovascular, musculoskeletal and immune system.

Several studies have indicated that acupuncture significantly helps improve sleep quality by increasing the release of the neurotransmitter gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) which promotes relaxation and sleep, and helps to calm excitability throughout the nervous system preparing the mind and body for rest.(2, 6) As gamma-aminobutyric acid levels increase, endogenous melatonin secretion rates do as well, further encouraging the mind and body to calm and acting as a sleep-promoting agent that also balances sleep-wake cycles, or circadian rhythm.(1, 6) It has also been discovered that acupuncture treatment reduces the presence of hormones that cause excitability such as norepinephrine and balances those that have a bidirectional effect on excitability such as serotonin and dopamine, bringing balance to circadian rhythm and promoting more regular, healthy sleep patterns.(6)

Acupuncture also induces a state of deep relaxation by reducing stress and anxiety, which are often significant contributors to sleep disturbances and insomnia, and bringing balance to our cardiovascular, musculoskeletal and immune systems. This overall reduction in bodily stress can make it easier to fall asleep, stay asleep and achieve a more restful night’s sleep.

Sleep Study for Patient

How impactful can acupuncture be for sleep hygiene? Below is a graph we developed alongside a patient who came to Synergy Acupuncture seeking help with insomnia and sleep irregularity. The patient was an older male, in his mid 50’s, who had been suffering with chronic sleep problems for many years. As part of his treatment regiment, the patient was asked to use an app to measure his sleep patterns, allowing Synergy to examine how acupuncture improves his sleep habits over time. In less than a month of treatment, the patient exhibited a massive improvement, with total sleep time increasing by an hour and a half on average, total REM sleep time increasing by an hour and sleep disruptions reduced by 50% after consistent treatment. The more treatment sessions the client received, the better his sleep improved across the board.

How Sleep Impacts Athletic Performance

The relationship between sleep and sports performance is extremely well-documented. For athletes, maintaining optimal sleep is a key component of training and performance. As mentioned, acupuncture has been shown to help in regulating sleep patterns and improving sleep hygiene, thus supporting better performance outcomes.

Adequate sleep and healthy sleep habits are essential for muscle recovery, cognitive function (including reaction time and executive function and decision making), and overall physical health, which are all crucial for athletes.(8) Poor sleep hygiene or inadequate sleep, on the other hand, can lead to a number of issues that can heavily impact athletic ability including decreased agility, worsened mood, increased levels of fatigue, higher susceptibility to injuries and lower stamina. Poor sleep hygiene can also inhibit muscular repair and growth, which can be critical for athletes doing high intensity training or sports.(8) 

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Sources

 

  1. Spence, D. Warren, et al. “Acupuncture Increases Nocturnal Melatonin Secretion and Reduces Insomnia and Anxiety: A Preliminary Report.” The Journal of Neuropsychiatry and Clinical Neurosciences, vol. 16, no. 1, Feb. 2004, pp. 19–28,https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/14990755/.
  2. Cao, Huijuan, et al. “Acupuncture for Treatment of Insomnia: A Systematic Review of Randomized Controlled Trials.” The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, vol. 15, no. 11, Nov. 2009, pp. 1171–1186, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3156618/.
  3. Zhang, Mingming, et al. “Effectiveness and Safety of Acupuncture for Insomnia: Protocol for a Systematic Review.” Medicine, vol. 98, no. 45, 1 Nov. 2019, p. e17842, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/31702639.
  4. Roth, Thomas. “Insomnia: Definition, Prevalence, Etiology, and Consequences.” Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine, vol. 3, no. 5 suppl, 14 Nov. 2019, https://jcsm.aasm.org/doi/10.5664/jcsm.26929#:~:text=a%20cognitive%20system.-,CONCLUSION,%2C%20social%2C%20and%20physical%20domains.
  5. Yin, Xuan, et al. “Effect of Electroacupuncture on Insomnia in Patients with Depression.” JAMA Network Open, vol. 5, no. 7, 7 July 2022, p. e2220563, https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamanetworkopen/fullarticle/2793930.
  6. Wu, Junmei, and Zhengyu Zhao. “Acupuncture in Circadian Rhythm Sleep–Wake Disorders and Its Potential Neurochemical Mechanisms.” Frontiers in Neuroscience, vol. 18, 22 Jan. 2024, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC10839072/#:~:text=Several%20in%20vivo%20and%20clinical,modulate%20sleep%2Drelated%20circadian%20rhythms.
  7. “Sleep Statistics and Facts about Sleep Deprivation.” NCOA Adviser, www.ncoa.org/adviser/sleep/sleep-statistics/#:~:text=About%2030%25%20of%20adults%20have.
  8. Charest, Jonathan, and Michael A. Grandner. “Sleep and Athletic Performance.” Sleep Medicine Clinics, vol. 15, no. 1, Mar. 2020, pp. 41–57, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC9960533/.