Acupuncture for Insomnia

acupuncture for insomnia

There are many factors that may contribute to insomnia.  Clinically, I see a vast majority of insomnia resulting from behavioral and environmental issues…erratic sleep schedule, excessive exposure to screens, ambient light, improper room temperature, medications, or dietary factors like caffeine and alcohol. Studies have shown that acupuncture can be a highly effective therapy for regulating sleep patterns. It is believed that one of the mechanisms by which acupuncture helps insomnia is by regulating neurohormones (hormones of the brain). Acupuncture for insomnia has been shown to help the body regulate the primary stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline.  By down-regulating these two stress hormones, sleep hormones are up-regulated with acupuncture.

Stress is common-place and pervasive in our society and the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis (HPA axis) is switched on as a natural response mechanism to stress.  The HPA axis works over-time to adjust to an onslaught of worries, fears, anxieties and concerns.  When this happens, the body’s internal rhythms are thrown off and this commonly results in daytime tiredness and nighttime sleeplessness.  Many people describe feeling tired but mentally wired when stress hormones are out of balance.

The HPA axis is the communication system that gets switched on when we are under threat and has been an integral part of our survival since the dawn of (wo)man.  It causes a chain reaction that affects our respiration, blood pressure, metabolism, reproduction, cognitive function, muscle tone, vision, and hearing so that when we are under threat we are primed to fight, freeze or flee.

Stress comes in three forms: physical, chemical and emotional.  In our modern, fast-paced life, emotional stress and exposure to environmental toxins are both responsible for negative changes to our endocrine system.  The primary stress hormone, cortisol, is the master hormone of the body because it regulates all of the other hormones.  

When the body is balanced, yin and yang are balanced.  

Cortisol and melatonin have a yin/yang relationship; cortisol is yang and melatonin is yin. Yang energy dominates the first half of the day, and we know that healthy cortisol levels should be highest in the early morning and slowly drop throughout the day.  

Yin energy dominates in the later part of the day and melatonin being yin in nature, should be lowest in the morning and highest in the evening, peaking around 10pm.

Treating insomnia can be challenging because patients need to make lifestyle and behavioral changes, and let’s face it, that is often easier said than done.

Acupuncture for insomnia can help you improve your sleep quality

When approaching insomnia from a traditional Chinese medicine perspective, it is important to identify which organs are imbalanced.  Most commonly, insomnia involves the qi (energy) of the Heart.  The Heart stores the Shen, also known as the spirit mind, or consciousness.  If the energy of the Heart is balanced, then sleep will be sound and restful.  If the Heart is agitated, there may be difficulty falling asleep, staying asleep and even profuse, wild and unsettling dreams are typical.   

Any treatment of insomnia begins with addressing sleep hygiene: room temperature, regular bedtime, elimination of screen time, and dietary modifications.  

When insomnia does not improve with changes to behavioral factors it’s important to evaluate the health of the endocrine system and address the root issue.  

It is common for women going through perimenopause to experience symptoms like  anxiety, hot flashes, weight gain, fatigue, insomnia and libido.  

A standard course of acupuncture for insomnia treatment is 6 weeks in conjunction with behavioral and dietary changes.  

Additional therapies may include supplements.  Magnesium taurate has been shown to help with insomnia and there is no risk of dependency or developing intolerance (unlike supplementing with melatonin).  

Adaptogenic herbs like ginseng are also helpful because they help to regulate stress hormones.  Keep in mind, insomnia usually goes hand in hand with dysregulation of stress hormones.  Effective acupuncture for insomnia strategies necessitate a holistic approach: treating both the root of the condition and the symptoms.

While many TCM practitioners may start with Chinese herbal remedies, I tend to add those medicines secondarily to supplements.  If there are underlying nutritional deficiencies or digestive issues, an herbal formula for insomnia isn’t necessarily going to address that. In the case where a patient has poor sleep hygiene and a nutritionally deficient diet, herbs will only treat the symptoms and not the root cause.

Sleep should be consistent, solid and rejuvenating. If you are awakening too early, have difficulty staying asleep or awaken feeling groggy, it’s time to do something about it. Acupuncture can help you improve your quality and quantity of sleep so call today to set up an appointment!  

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