Classical Acupuncture for Sleep Disorders


            Good sleep quality is one of the most important components of a healthy life, right up there with proper diet and exercise.  However, sleep quality in America continues to decline.  The National Center for Sleep Disorders Research division of the National Institutes of Health has found that about 30-40% of adults suffer from some degree of insomnia in a given year, and about 10-15% of adults report chronic insomnia.  This amounts to millions of people who are not getting proper rest.  The harmful effects of insomnia pose a serious threat not only to personal health, but also to society.  Amongst these devastating effects are an increased risk of depression, increased risk of poor health and disease, including obesity, hypertension, diabetes, and cancer, as well as increased risk of accidents and more absenteeism at work.

Treating sleep disorders necessarily requires a multi-pronged approach in order to properly determine the cause of the sleep disorder and to prescribe the proper treatment and lifestyle modifications based on the underlying factors.  When sleep disorders are mild, not ongoing, and underlying medical causes have been ruled out, often fairly simple behavioral and lifestyle changes will suffice to regulate the patient’s sleep quality.  These recommendations come under the umbrella of sleep hygiene, and include tips such as refraining from caffeine, alcohol, nicotine, and spicy foods or heavy meals close to bedtime.  Its also important to maintain a regular schedule of bedtime and wake time, and to ensure that the sleeping environment is dark, quiet, and comfortable in temperature.  Activities that can cause stress or anxiety should be avoided close to bedtime, and vigorous exercise should only be performed earlier in the day.  Even with these and other sleep hygiene recommendations however, many people still suffer from sleep disorders, and in these cases, treatment is often necessary to restore normal sleep.

Conventional medicine often treats sleep disorders with prescription medications, which can offer relief in some cases, but is generally not a good long term solution.  Many of these medications are habit forming and addictive, come with potentially dangerous side effects, and can actually disrupt the healthy sleep cycles which occur in normal sleep.  Chinese Medicine, and specifically classical acupuncture, has a long history of treating all types of sleep disorders, and can often provide effective relief in a safe and gentle way to even serious and chronic cases of sleep disorders.

In Classical Chinese Medicine, good quality sleep consists of two components: physical rest for the body, and mental quietude for the mind.  If either of these two components are disturbed due to various reasons, the sleep quality will suffer.  In determining the potential causes of the sleep disorder, the acupuncturist must examine the health state of a number of parameters, most notably the health status of the patient’s blood, the balance of yin and yang in the patient, the condition of the emotions and psyche, acupuncture meridian imbalances, and organic disease states.  The acupuncturist gets this information through listening to the patient’s subjective description of their sleep, as well as using Chinese Medical diagnostic tools such as pulse diagnosis and looking at a patients tongue, and observing their general appearance and demeanor.

Acupuncture treatment often begins with two of the constitutional acupuncture meridians, one which regulates circadian rhythms and the duration and timing of sleep,  and the other supporting the depth and quality of sleep.  These meridians can be thought of as foundational synchronizers which allow the patient’s sleep and wake cycles and sleep quality to return to a more natural state.  In Chinese Medical terms, this is known as balancing the yin and yang energetics of the patient, yin energies corresponding to night time, sleep, and quietude, and yang corresponding to daytime, wakefulness, and activity.

Once these constitutional meridians have been rebalanced, if sleep continues to be disturbed, the treatment is then fine tuned to address whatever organic, emotional, meridian imbalance, or other factors may still be contributing to the sleep problems.  This stage could also include treating such disturbances as obstructive sleep apnea, snoring, restless leg syndrome, night sweats, or dream disturbed sleep, to name some common issues.  Once the underlying factors have been resolved through acupuncture treatment and lifestyle modifications made where necessary, the patient will enjoy rejuvenating, sound sleep once again, and this should be a lasting healing if the factors that led to the sleep problems originally are avoided.

If the sleep problems have been happening for only a short period of time, then usually a short series of treatments will suffice to reverse the trend.  If the issue is chronic, however, it will likely require a longer series of regular acupuncture treatments.  The specific treatment strategy and treatment plan is always customized to the unique presentation of the individual.  For someone who has suffered from a chronic sleep disorder, the benefits that are available are well worth the commitment to the healing process.  The integrity of the patient’s health overall will often improve dramatically through a series of treatments.

In closing, regular and restful sleep is an integral factor in healing from all health disorders, as sleep time is the time when the body rests and repairs itself.  Quality of life increases tremendously as well once proper sleep patterns are restored.  If you or someone you love is suffering from the devastating effects of a sleep disorder, classical acupuncture can offer a safe and effective alternative to conventional therapies in restoring deep and restful sleep.

To Your Good Health and Happiness,

Andrew Macfarlane L.Ac