If you are struggling with ongoing sleep problems and nothing your doctor can prescribe seems to help, or if you feel uncomfortable about the idea of taking sleeping pills, acupuncture offers a solution. Worldwide,an increasing number of people are turning to acupuncture to cure insomnia – but what does the evidence say, and could it work for you?
Chinese Theories of Sleep
In the ancient Chinese traditions that underlie the practice of acupuncture, a successful night’s sleep is believed to be all about a successful transition of energy. Yang energy, which keeps you alert and outwardly focused during the day, must move out of the eyes and brain at night so that the mind can rest. Various imbalances can interrupt this process.
Acupuncture procedures designed to treat insomnia aim to help restore the balance between yang energy and the yin energy that predominates at night. The idea is that they will help energy to flow more freely through your body. This is achieved in part by helping you to relax.
Science and Acupuncture
Although most modern scientists dispute the Chinese theory of body energy, there is widespread agreement that it is a good metaphor with which to describe natural processes. Contrary to what you might expect, conventional medicine and acupuncture are not at odds. Some GPs are happy to recommend acupuncture therapists and in a few places acupuncture is available on the NHS for people with severe problems that don’t respond to other treatment.
Scientific research suggests that acupuncture is most helpful to people with anxiety-related sleep disorders. These are the type of disorders in which you may find yourself worrying too much to get to sleep easily, or in which you may frequently wake up feeling stressed.
Acupuncture appears to increase night-time production of melatonin, which helps to ensure a proper night’s sleep. It may also have a calming effect on the central nervous system, as it can be used effectively to treat pain.
There is no evidence to suggest that the success of acupuncture depends on your belief in the theories it is based on, so it may be worth your while seeing what it can do for you even if you are sceptical. Remember that needles represent an infection risk so you should always use an accredited clinic with a good reputation.
What You Can Expect
Most patients report that receiving acupuncture immediately makes them feel very relaxed. This can be a great relief if you haven’t had a good night’s sleep for a while, as your body will tend to be full of tension even when resting. Consequently, people often sleep very well the night after treatment, but this doesn’t mean the problem is solved.
Because insomnia is usually a chronic problem, several treatments are likely to be needed in order to enable the body to readjust properly. These should be received two to three times a week over the course of one to two months. If treatments are missed, the whole process may have to start again from scratch.
This means that it is important to make sure you have the funding for a full course of treatment before you begin acupuncture. Most clinics offer reduced prices for repeat visits so you can discuss you options with them when you first attend.
Patients seeking acupuncture for insomnia report a high success rate. Your first experience should help you to make an assessment of whether or not it is likely to be successful in your case.