Many of my clients have this problem as a secondary complaint when they come to see me. I would say from my experience that acupuncture/massage has been able to support and improve sleep quality of many of my clients.
Insomnia is defined as a situation where there is an unsatisfactory quantity and/or quality of sleep that lasts a considerable period of time. This includes difficulty falling asleep and staying asleep. Medically, insomnia is addressed by encouraging routines to cultivate good sleep patterns, such as maintenance of regular sleeping hours, and an environment which will encourage sleep. The National institute for Care and Health Excellence (NICE) have also recommended the use of cognitive behavioural therapy in cases of persistent insomnia. There are pharmacological interventions available, but their long term use has been discouraged by the Joint Formulary Committee because of the dangers of dependence and other adverse effects on health.
From a medical view point sleep for humans is characterised by reduced or absent consciousness, and is initialised by the increased secretion of melatonin, a substance produced by the body in response to changing levels of daylight, and which ‘tells’ the body to go into ‘sleep mode’. Sleep is a necessary function that enables the brain to ‘reboot’ itself after daytime activity, and allows the nervous system and other physical systems of the body to restore their optimum functioning. Traditional Chinese medicine understands sleep and sleep rhythms as part of the yin yang cycle which occurs over a 24 hour period; with the hours of daylight being the period where yang is more predominant than yin and the night time, the period where yin is more predominant.What evidence exists that traditional acupuncture can help with insomnia? The British Acupuncture Council has produced several research fact sheets which discuss the evidence available for the use of acupuncture in the treatment of many ‘medical conditions’, including insomnia. (http://www.acupuncture.org.uk/a-to-z-of-conditions/a-to-z-of-conditions/insomnia.html). Among the body of evidence to support the use of acupuncture to help insomnia include studies which demonstrated that acupuncture treatment helped increase the levels of nocturnal melatonin secretion, thereby enabling sleep, and reducing anxiety; and reducing sympathetic nervous system activity, and hence increasing relaxation.
What actually is it about traditional acupuncture which makes it entirely different from what conventional medical professionals do? ‘Traditional’ means that the practitioner is trained to use an approach to diagnosis and treatment that has evolved over the past few thousand years in China, Japan and other countries of East Asia. It is an authentic medical tradition which explains how each person’s symptoms and signs can be interpreted to establish a diagnosis of the underlying imbalances in their overall patterns of health and well-being. Each and every piece of information is relevant to building up this picture, and that can include changes seen in the complexion, in body shape and movement, changes in the tongue and information gained from palpation of the pulse and the body as a whole. This is a very heuristic and patient-centered approach that leads to a formal diagnosis in the technical terms of traditional Chinese medicine.
Once the practitioner has diagnosed the nature and cause of the imbalance a treatment plan will be devised which will be unique and specific to the patient. The treatment is then carried out by inserting ultra fine sterile disposable needles into selected acupuncture points on the body. Traditionally-trained acupuncturists may also use a heat treatment (moxabustion), cupping therapy or other forms of physical stimulation.
Each year 2.3 million traditional acupuncture treatments are carried out in the UK, making this one of the most popular complementary therapies. People seek acupuncture for a variety of conditions, from chronic illness to part of a health maintenance regime. Acupuncture is a holistic treatment, and so seeks to look at the person as a whole. Any symptoms observed give clues to the internal environment of the body and will be observed together to make the diagnosis. Examples of the effects of insomnia and sleep deprivation in Chinese medicine can come from symptoms of yin deficiency, namely, mental restlessness, excessive thirst at night, an empty/fine rapid pulse, and a red tongue with no coat.
Always use a qualified practitioner. The British Acupuncture Council (BAcC), with around 3000 qualified members, represents the largest body of traditional acupuncturists in the UK and guarantees excellence in training, safe practice, professional conduct and continuing professional development.
BAcC registered acupuncturists are trained in relevant aspects of Western medicine including anatomy, physiology, pharmacology, pathology and aetiology. In addition, all BAcC registered acupuncturists are trained to recognise in their patients warning signs known as ‘red flags’. Red flags may indicate the presence of a life-threatening condition and such patients are immediately referred on to other healthcare practitioners for tests and treatment where appropriate.
To find a qualified acupuncturist or to ask a question about acupuncture please visit www.acupuncture.org.uk
Joint Formulary Committee. British National Formulary. Edition 58. London: Royal Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain and British Medical Association, September 2009.
National Institute for Health & Clinical Excellence, 2004. Guidance on the use of zalepon, zolpidem and zopiclone for short-term management of insomnia [online]. Technology appraisal 77. Available: http://nicemedia/pdf/TA077fullguidance.pdf
Spence et al. Acupuncture Increases Nocturnal Melatonin Secretion and Reduces Insomnia and Anxiety: A Preliminary Report. J Neuropsych Clin Neurosciences 2004; 16: 19-28.
Lee SY et al. Intradermal acupuncture on shen-men and nei-kuan acupoints improves insomnia. Am J Chin Med. 2009a; 37(6): 1013-21.
World Health Organisation 2007. International Staistical Classification of Disease 10th Revision (ICD-10) [online]. Available http://apps.who.int/classifications/apps/icd/icd10online/