Acupuncture has been shown to be at least as effective as drugs in treating insomnia. It is safe to use in the long-term, avoiding any drug-related side-effects. On top of this it is safe to use along-side said drugs, reducing their side effects and enhancing their beneficial effects. It is also useful for insomnia-related symptoms, such as stress, headaches and migraines, aches and pains and anxiety and depression.
Insomnia is on the rise across the world. In the UK 29% of adults suffer from insomnia, 24% of men and 34% of women. There are a variety of types of insomnia depending on whether insomnia is the initial symptom, or primary insomnia, or whether it develops after another symptom, known as secondary insomnia. Secondary insomnia is common in cancer patients, stroke patients, and those with anxiety and depression, among others. Primary insomnia is common in people suffering from chronic stress, which would explain part of its increased incidence.
Other symptoms can also develop with insomnia – anxiety and depression, lethargy, tensions and pain, headaches and migraines are among the most common. Though stroke and heart disease can develop in chronic cases.
The main treatment for insomnia is drugs, barbiturates, benzodiazepines and other sedatives. In some cases, these can have short-term benefits, but long-term use can lead to side-effects including lethargy, addiction and neurological damage.
Acupuncture for Insomnia
Acupuncture, on the other hand, has no long-term risks associated with it and has been shown, in a range of studies, to be safe. It is also been shown to be at least as, if not more, beneficial than drug treatment for insomnia. So much so that the World Health Organisation recommends acupuncture ‘because its therapeutic effect has been shown’.
A systematic review that used 46 randomized-controlled trials, which included a total of 3811 patients, showed that acupuncture improved sleep quality and was better than drugs at increasing the total sleep duration. They concluded that ‘acupuncture appears to be effective in treating insomnia.’ Other systematic reviews also show results favouring acupuncture.
Similar results have been found in secondary insomnia. One systematic review concluded that in patients with insomnia related to cancer, ‘[acupuncture] may be superior to sham acupuncture, drugs or hormones therapy’. Another concluded that ‘acupuncture could be effective for treating insomnia after stroke’.
How does acupuncture benefit insomnia?
Acupuncture has been used to treat insomnia for centuries. It was known to do so by balancing the mind and body and restoring physiological functioning. Research is showing a variety of mechanisms that contribute to these effects. It has been shown to do this by:
- Increasing melatonin secretion, the hormone that regulates sleep cycles
- Increasing nitric oxide content, helping promote normal function of the brain, which helps relax the mind and improve sleep
- Increasing blood flow, which can relax the body and mind, improving sleep quality
- Reducing sympathetic nervous system activity, the fight of flight response. Calming the body and increasing relaxation
- regulating levels of neurotransmitters (or their modulators) such as serotonin, noradrenaline, dopamine, GABA and neuropeptide Y; hence altering the brains’s mood chemistry to help to increase relaxation and reduce tension