What is insomnia ?
Insomnia is defined as a condition of unsatisfactory quantity and/or quality of sleep lasting for a considerable period of time (WHO 2007). It includes difficulty falling asleep, difficulty staying asleep, or early final wakening (WHO 2007; American Psychiatric Association, 2000). Although drugs given to induce sleep (hypnotics) can provide some relief from the symptoms of insomnia, they do not treat the underlying cause. Hypnotics also have many potential harmful side effects such as adverse effects on health, and the risk of dependence. Patients can often find it difficult to sleep naturally, without pills or medicine in the future.
There are many well recognised patterns which explain why the mind refuses to close down at night, even though someone is physically exhausted. An acupuncturist will want to know not simply about sleeping patterns, but everything else to do with daily functioning. It is likely that there will be other signs and symptoms which will allow them to identify what is out of balance and needs to be harmonised.
However, there are now consistent and substantial studies showing acupuncture to be an effective way to treat insomnia (Luo 2010, Reza 2010, Yeung 2009, Lee 2009a, Huang 2009, and others). A series of thin needles are used to apply pressure very carefully to specific points along the surface of the skin.
Research published in the Shanghai Journal of Acupuncture and Moxibustion (Ye et al) finds acupuncture 90% effective in improving total sleep duration and sleep quality, lowering relapse rates and producing no adverse effects. Through the stimulation of certain acupuncture points, acupuncture affects areas of the brain that are known to reduce sensitivity to pain and stress, as well as promoting relaxation and deactivating the ‘analytical’ brain responsible for insomnia (Hui 2010). The research concluded that acupuncture significantly improves sleep time and sleep quality while improving the overall mental and physical health of patients. Similarly, a study by Wang et al. found that acupuncture benefits sleep and reduces insomnia.
The study compared acupuncture with sham acupuncture and estazolam, a benzodiazepine medication. True (verum) acupuncture produced significantly superior patient outcomes for insomnia patients including improvements in sleep quality and total sleep time.
Importantly, taking acupuncture for insomnia has proven most effective when combined with herbal medicine, incorporated into the patient’s diet. For example, the herb Suan Zao Ren helps to enrich the blood that flows to the heart and liver while regulating and relaxing the liver meridian. This is one of the preferred herbal approaches to treating insomnia when there is a liver or heart problem, but it’s important to remember that in Traditional Chinese Medicine, a diagnosis is reached after carefully assessing the specific state of the individual patient. There is no ‘one treatment for all’ approach to insomnia, each patient receives an individualised treatment tailored to their needs. Therefore, herbal formulas can often include a variety of herbs, depending on the patient. There are a variety of Chinese herbal formulas that have been shown to help those with insomnia to sleep more deeply and to achieve restful sleep for longer periods of time.
Each patient is unique, and each person who can’t sleep does so in a way that is specific to them. The best advice will always be that given after a face-to face assessment. If you suffer from insomnia or sleep deprivation, give us a call on 0207 586 7348 or email [email protected] to see how we can help. More information relate to acupuncture for insomnia, please visit Insomnia webpage.
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