According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), one in three Americans are not getting enough sleep on a routine basis. While scientists don’t completely understand why we need sleep, the importance of it cannot be understated. Whether you’re struggling to fall asleep, stay asleep or anything in between, acupuncture for sleep is a drug-free way to a better night’s sleep!
Understanding Sleep Disorders
According to the International Classification of Sleep Disorders (ICSD), there are 8 main sleep disorder categories—all with multiple sub-categories. Generally defined, a sleep disorder “refers to inadequate or poor quality sleep,” with the most common being insomnia (source).
If not treated, sleep disorders can lead to a host of health issues, including:
- Lack of alertness
- Increased stress and anxiety
- Impaired memory
- Weight gain
- More susceptible to illness
Luckily, there are multiple treatment options available for those not getting enough sleep.
Common Sleep Remedies
If you are experiencing sleep issues, there are some easy changes you can start incorporating into your lifestyle to help calm your body naturally:
- Keep your room as dark and quiet as possible
- Keep your room between 60 and 67 degrees Fahrenheit
- Avoid caffeine and foods with tyramine 4-6 hours before bed
- Stick to a sleep routine (even on the weekends)
- Avoid using your phone, laptop, tablet, etc. right before bed
- Maintain a healthy diet and exercise regimen
- Try deep breathing or meditation before bed to relax the mind and body
- Listen to sleep inducing music at bedtime, like this one
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Of course, these lifestyle changes do not always help. If your symptoms are more severe or if these changes do not improve your sleep quality, a medical professional may recommend sleeping pills.
There are two main categories of sleeping pills doctors prescribe today: Benzodiazepines and NonBenzodiazepines (Z-drugs).
- Benzodiazepines are the most commonly-prescribed medication for sleep disorders. These powerful drugs include Valium, Xanax, Ativan and more and work by depressing the brain and the central nervous system via gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA). While they are effective, these drugs are highly addictive and patients often develop a tolerance to them, meaning they need more of the medicine to feel an effect.
- NonBenzodiazepines (also known as Z-drugs) are similar to benzodiazepines, but have different chemical compounds that better target the parts of the brain that handle sleep. They include Ambien, Lunesta and Sonata and get their nickname “Z-drugs” from the generic versions: zolpidem, eszopiclone and zaleplon. They also pose less risk for addiction or tolerance, but in exchange, these drugs have been known to cause unusual behavior.
While medication can help, it is not recommended to rely on sleeping pills for a prolonged time. Fortunately, acupuncture has been used to help people sleep for centuries.
Acupuncture for Sleep
Acupuncture has been a practice of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) for thousands of years and has been used to help aid in sleep for just as long. A study from the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine deemed it to be “effective in treatment of insomnia” with the caveat that “further large, rigorous designed trials are warranted.”
But how exactly can acupuncture affect sleep?
Acupuncture uses very long and thin needles that are inserted into various regions along the body’s twelve meridians to help restore balance and homeostasis within the body. Specifically, the needles open up blocked channels of energy. (Is there too much internal heat, cold, inflammation, etc.?)
A Holistic Approach
Acupuncture (and TCM in general) is a practice that takes your entire body into account. Your acupuncturist will begin with an initial consultation, noting your symptoms, chronic conditions and stressors to assess what is out of balance.
According to TCM, your body’s energy, qi, circulates throughout your body via twelve meridians. These meridians are linked to internal organs and emotions. (For example, the heart meridian relates to anxiety.) Furthermore, too much of any given emotion will create a disturbance in the emotional energy, shen.
The Science of Acupuncture
Acupuncture has been proven to relieve anxiety, allowing the body to relax, and to help the body release melatonin, a powerful sleep hormone. Acupuncture is also used as a chronic pain treatment, which can aid in better sleep.
Beyond Acupuncture for Sleep
In addition to regular treatments, your acupuncturist will recommend some lifestyle changes, similar to the ones mentioned above. They may also prescribe traditional Chinese herbs, such as Valerian (Xie Cao):
Xie Cao (Radix et Rhizoma Valerianae) has a wide range of functions, including but not limited to antispasmodic and sedative/hypnotic properties. In a double-blind crossover study of 128 people, it was found that those who took Xie Cao (Radix et Rhizoma Valerianae) had a significant improvement in sleep quality with less awakenings during the night, and less somnolence the next morning (Source).
In addition, a soak in the bathtub with a homemade essential oil bath bomb will help relax the body and mind before bedtime:
DIY Essential Oil Bath Bombs
- First, mix the dry ingredients (8 oz. baking soda, 4 oz. epsom salt, 4 oz. cornstarch and 4 oz. citric acid) together in a large bowl. (*Epsom salt is naturally detoxifying and will help muscles and body detox naturally and relax.)
- Next, mix up the wet ingredients (2 ½ tbsp of coconut oil, 1 tbsp water, 1-2 tsp essential oil (add slowly and check for desired scent level) and a few drops of food coloring (optional).
- Slowly add the wet mixture to the dry mixture.
- Divide the mixture evenly into your silicone molds ASAP.
- Let the bath bombs dry. (This can take several hours.)
- Finally, bath time! Enjoy! *Adapted from this recipe
If you are have difficulty falling or staying asleep, acupuncture for sleep is a natural and safe way to help treat it. Learn more about our acupuncture services here and read more about our practitioners here.