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Acupuncture is a Safe, Promising Treatment Option for Insomnia Patients

Insomnia is one of the world’s most common conditions, with 30 percent or more of the global population experiencing symptoms occasionally. Upwards of 10 percent of people have insomnia disorder, which means the symptoms interfere with normal daily functioning.

Disordered sleep can lead to an array of health problems. It can cause problems with cognitive function, mood regulation, physical performance – nearly every part and function of the body is affected by poor sleep.

Numerous treatments have been developed to help people with insomnia symptoms, including cognitive therapy, medications, and lifestyle changes. An emerging option for patients is acupuncture, as it’s generally safe, well-tolerated and backed by significant medical research and case studies.

How Acupuncture Can Help with Insomnia and Poor Sleep Quality

Acupuncture is one of the world’s oldest medical modalities – in use for more than 3,000 years. Over the millennia, acupuncture has been adapted for a huge array of medical conditions – and the list keeps growing.

Acupuncture’s far-reaching effects aren’t completely understood, but researchers believe that it’s an effective neuromodulator. In other words, acupuncture can regulate proper nervous system signaling, so it helps block undesirable signals (like pain or anxiety) and promotes signaling that leads to improved well-being. Acupuncture patients have been imaged using MRI scanning technology, and brain activity changes during and following treatment. Further, acupuncture is known to trigger the release of endorphins and other biochemicals that improve mood and pain resistance.

It all adds up to an effective way to treat pain, anxiety, and a host of other conditions, including insomnia.

The Medical Research Behind Acupuncture and Insomnia

Acupuncture is being heavily researched for its potential benefits. Some of this research has been dedicated to acupuncture and insomnia. And while more research is needed, what exists already is promising. Some of that research includes:

A 2017 study published in Sleep Medicine.

This single-blinded and randomized study looked at 72 patients and split them into two groups. The first was an experimental group who received true acupuncture three times a week for four weeks. The second group was a control group that received sham acupuncture (acupuncture where the needles are not inserted deeply enough for efficacy).

Results were measured using the Insomnia Severity Index (ISI), along with several secondary indicators. Following treatment, both groups improved their ISI scores, but the experimental group sustained their symptomatic improvement at a two-week and four-week follow-up.

A 2013 study published in Evidence Based Complementary Alternative Medicine.

This study involved 180 patients in a double-blinded and randomized study. The participants were split into three groups. One group received true acupuncture, one received sham acupuncture, and a third received sleep medication (estazolam). Results were measured using the Pittsburgh Sleep Quality Index (PSQI). Following treatment, all three groups improved on the PSQI, but the true acupuncture group improved their PSQI scores the most dramatically.

A 2020 meta-analysis published in BioMed Research International.

This study specifically looked at the link between acupuncture and obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). OSA is a common cause of insomnia symptoms, so treating OSA can, in effect, treat insomnia.

This meta-analysis reviewed nine studies that included more than 600 participants. The results were staggering. Overall, the researchers found that acupuncture improved oxygen saturation, reduced the number of apneas per hour of sleep, and increased sleepiness. The results were most pronounced among participants with moderate to severe OSA.

A 2020 study published in Nature and Science of Sleep.

This study, which included 90 patients, looked at the effects of acupuncture on depression-induced insomnia. Depression and anxiety are both insomnia aggravators, but acupuncture has long been used to treat both. Multiple studies have confirmed that acupuncture can be beneficial for people with either depression or anxiety.

This double-blind, randomized study split the 90 participants into three groups – a control group, a sham acupuncture group, and a true acupuncture group. After eight weeks of treatment (three times a week), the groups that received true acupuncture improved their sleep quality, sleep efficiency, total sleep time and depression symptoms. Sleep-related symptoms were reported using the PSQI.

A 2019 meta-analysis published in Evidence Based Complementary Alternative Medicine.

This last study considered another major cause of insomnia – chronic pain. Chronic pain can interfere with daily life in a variety of ways, including sleep quality. Fortunately, there is a mountain of evidence that shows that acupuncture can help with many forms of chronic pain.

In this meta-analysis, which reviewed nine studies and about 1,000 patients, researchers found that acupuncture could improve sleep quality and duration in people with chronic pain, compared to medication or sham acupuncture.

The research backs acupuncture as a potential insomnia treatment, but millions of people around the world know this already. If you’re considering acupuncture for your own insomnia symptoms, it’s extremely important to seek treatment through a licensed practitioner. Why?

Licensed acupuncturists are trained to optimize treatment efficacy while minimizing risks. The risk of adverse effects is low with acupuncture – age and overall health are rarely contraindications for treatment. Licensed practitioners are trained to reduce these risks further, ensuring their patients remain comfortable throughout treatment. Further, licensed acupuncturists only utilize sanitary needles and equipment, so the risk of infection is also controlled.

Another reason to seek a licensed practitioner – better treatment efficacy. Extensive training is required to learn where the most effective acupuncture points are for a particular condition, such as insomnia. During training, acupuncturists learn where these points are and how to stimulate them for optimal treatment. If delivered by an unlicensed practitioner, treatment is unlikely to provide long-lasting benefits.

In the fight against insomnia and poor sleep, acupuncture can be a valuable tool. There’s plenty of research to back this notion, but it should be delivered by someone with comprehensive training and education. Your sleep is worth it.

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