Acupuncture for Insomnia
Over the years I have heard so many patients complain that they have trouble sleeping. Either they can’t drop off, wake up throughout the night, or wake up ridiculously early in the morning. Sometimes patients come for treatment solely because of sleep problems, but very often it comes up as an aside to their main complaint.
Not sleeping is such a distressing problem as it really can lower the quality of a persons’ life. It can cause feelings of exhaustion, feeling emotionally strung-out and stretched to the limit. I hear these phrases again and again to describe this problem. According to a survey by the office of national statistics, around 29% of adults reported experiencing sleep problems the week before an interview. This is hardly surprising news! A good example of how our minds can keep us awake!
The treatment for insomnia depends on the length and nature of the symptoms. Advice should be given on appropriate routines to encourage good sleep, such as avoiding stimulants and maintaining regular sleeping hours with a suitable environment for sleep (NICE 2004). Drugs can relieve the symptoms of insomnia, but do not treat the underlying cause. Expert bodies have long advised that the used of hypnotics for insomnia should be limited to short courses for acutely distressed patients only (Joint Formulary Committee 2009).
So, how can acupuncture help?
Reviews are consistent in showing that most trials have found acupuncture to be significantly more effective that hypnotic drugs (SUN 2010). On the evidence that we have, given that acupuncture appears to be at least as effective as existing conventional drugs, without their level of side effects, it could be considered one of the therapeutic options for insomnia. In general acupuncture is believed to stimulate the nervous system thus promoting physical and emotional well-being. Stimulation of certain acupuncture points has been shown to affect areas of the brain that are known to reduce sensitivity to pain and stress, as well as promoting relaxation and deactivating the analytical brain, which is responsible for insomnia and anxiety (Hui 2010).
In other words we know that acupuncture can help patients with sleep difficulties. Every case is different, and sleep problems can arise for all sorts of reasons. I see a lot of patients being kept awake by pain which is very distressing. I really feel for them. I know I feel grotty if I miss sleep, both physically and emotionally. However, if you are suffering in this way, why not try a few acupuncture treatments to regain your sense of well-being”.
For more information on acupuncture, please see here.
In the absence of a specific medical condition that can cause insomnia, falling asleep requires four things to make it easier.
- A quiet, dark room
- A warm, comfortable bed
- A body free of aches and pains
- A mind free of distractions
If all four are present, falling asleep is just a matter of letting the sleep hormone, melatonin, do its job and we’ll drift off. The important part is that we ‘let’ it happen.
I’m sure we all experienced difficulties as children when we tried to get to sleep on Christmas Eve. Our minds full of anticipation for the day to come, plus maybe a little anxiety that if we couldn’t sleep, Father Christmas wouldn’t come, made it quite a challenge. I think we all learned a valuable lesson that shutting our eyes tighter and ‘trying’ to get to sleep just didn’t work.
Even without a warm bed or quiet room, if we’re tired enough we overcome an aching body and fall asleep almost anywhere. But without a mind free of distractions it is very difficult even if all other three conditions are present.
Anxiety and stress are among the most common causes of insomnia. If our mind is filled with negative thoughts, a dark room and lack of other stimuli will intensify those thoughts preventing the natural process.
So what can you do to aid the process?
From a physical point of view, simple things like checking your pillow is the right height to keep you spine in alignment and your neck is supported can help reduce tension.
Lessons in The Alexander Technique can help to drastically reduce muscular aches and pains through better, coordinated movement and improved posture. You soon come to appreciate how alignment and poise means less wear and tear on your body. Tensions you carry around all day, don’t suddenly disappear once you get into bed, and often persist when asleep. If you can remove habitual tension during the day, you don’t take it into your bed.
As for number (4) on our list, The Alexander Technique is an excellent way to learn how to ‘let go’ and get ‘into the moment’. The techniques used can help to promote mindfulness in all daily activities. And remember, if you take to bed what you do during the day, you’ll be in a better state to sleep at night if you’ve had a day with less stress and tension.
Calling to mind a fond memory can also help. You could visualise a favourite walk, or a place you’ve been on holiday as they will reduce anxiety and stress. The old advice of counting sheep can help to get you into the moment. But a better way in my view, is to focus on your breathing, the movement of your ribs and the mattress beneath your body.
Lastly, you should not become anxious about not being able to sleep as this obviously makes things worse. Learn to be detached and indifferent to your sleep patterns and this will ultimately allow your body to do the natural thing.
You can read more about The Alexander Technique here.
You can read about The Festival of Sleep here.