Acupuncture treatment of insomnia

By Olga V. Ways, DOM, AP, Dipl. OM

July 2012

The definition of insomnia includes difficulty falling asleep (the time period of falling asleep exceeds 30 minutes), easy waking during night time and then difficulty falling back to sleep, shallow sleep or inadequate sleep hours that are unable to reduce an overall fatigue and maintain a normal physiological activity during the day hours. Insomnia can effect person’s social life and lead to symptoms of drowsiness, dizziness, decreased mental activity and fatigue.

Along with the physiological factors, habits and medications, chronic insomnia often relates to underlying psychological disorders. For example, depression, nervous system disorders can all lead to insomnia.

It has been determined that insomnia is due to excessive release of dopamine neurotransmitter which produces damage to sleep neurons causing insomnia.

Pharmaceuticals are currently the primary method of treatment in the Western Medicine world. They include small doses of sedatives or antipsychotics which are only capable of diminishing symptoms of insomnia without dealing with the root of the problem – excessive dopamine fibers.  These medications are usually prescribed for a short period of time to avoid addiction. Sedatives may also effect memory and cause respiratory disorders if taken for a prolonged period of time. Antipsychotics can produce toxic side effects and dependence.

Non-pharmaceutical treatments include regular exercise, relaxation techniques, healthy balanced diet, limiting intake of coffee and tea, having warm feet baths before bedtime, taking a glass of warm milk are just a few among the general recommendations to maintain a healthy sleep.

In Chinese Medicine insomnia is considered to be a consequence of the spirit lacking nourishment or spirit being unsettled, imbalance between yin and yang. Definition of “spirit” covers regular sleep patterns that are result of the healthy functioning of the cerebral cortex and autonomic nervous system.

Pathogenesis of insomnia in Traditional Chinese Medicine could be damage caused by emotions, irregular eating habits which injure stomach and spleen, chronic illness, inborn weak physical constitution or heart deficiency which according to the Chinese doctors houses the spirit.

Successful treatment protocol for chronic insomnia includes a minimum of 10-12 acupuncture sessions (often after the 3rd session patient is able to notice improvement in a sleep pattern) during which an underlying cause for insomnia is identified through a differential diagnosis and course of treatment is developed which often includes herbal supplementation to address the root of the condition.

Preventative healthcare includes psychological health and lifestyle which are discussed during the treatment sessions. Psychological and emotional health is of a particular importance for patients suffering from insomnia. It is important to maintain an optimistic outlook on life, balance work and rest activities, have a healthy diet avoiding overeating before the bedtime, temperate their sexual activity which protects their heart and kidney, use relaxation techniques listening to a graceful or pleasant song to calm down and prepare for sleep avoiding any unsettling thoughts. Lifestyle recommendations include adjusting the biological clock by waking up earlier in the morning and exercising for 20 minutes facing the rising sun. Early morning sunlight allows a person to have more mental energy for the day. 15-30 minutes of exercise two hours before bedtime also helps the brain centers to rest better and helps falling asleep easier. Massage and aromatherapy are also recommended and dietary therapy is discussed in details.

References:

  1. 1.Acupuncture and Moxibustion for Insomnia. Sun Zhong-ren, Sun Yuan-zheng, 2010
  2. 2.Journal of Clinical Acupuncture and Moxibustion, 1998,14 (10):8, Acupuncture in the treatment of insomnia, a clinical observation of 30 cases. Min, C.