Integrative medicine refers to the combination of alternative and conventional treatments and practices. In recent years, researchers have seen the former’s promising impact. Included in its beneficiaries are patients contending with sleep problems. In particular, they have found some evidence that using acupuncture for insomnia, as well as sleep apnea, works.
Still, acupuncture might not have been the first thing you had in mind when your sleep doctor suggested “an alternative.” Although accepted in the West, acupuncture can be seen in the same category as superstitions.
This guide aims to shed light on the doubts surrounding this traditional Chinese treatment. Let’s start by clarifying that acupuncture does not pertain to one type of treatment but various ones. Meaning, there is no universal pattern for dealing with different health problems. An acupuncturist will tailor their approach based on your complaint.
Your insomnia or sleep apnea can be further categorized. Thus, your acupuncture treatment can be targeted, depending on the source. Let’s demystify this practice and see if its benefits can convince you to try it.
Table of Contents
What is Acupuncture?
To get a picture of the role of acupuncture in health and wellness, you need to look at how this ancient practice is regarded in China. Before needles, people used sharpened stones and bones. The treatment was discovered to be in trend as early as 100 B.C. But it saw a decline during the 17th century.
We won’t bore you with all the historical stuff. Instead, we can fast-track your understanding by introducing to you these concepts:
- Qi or chi – Pronounced as chee, this refers to the energy or life force that flows along pathways that are also called meridians. According to the Chinese, there are 12 central meridians on our body which connect our acupuncture points.
- 365 body points – The number of points through which acupuncture needles can go and rebalance the flow of chi.
- Yin-yang – Literally meaning “dark-bright,” yin-yang stands for two forces that are opposite yet interconnected. The purpose of acupuncture is to balance the yin and yang.
Benefits of Acupuncture
This traditional Chinese treatment was prohibited in the country in the 1920s. It was only revived in the 1940s by the Communist government. After 50 years, it was accepted in the West when public praise for its benefits by a journalist in the United States resurfaced.
Researchers continue to find more evidence of its effectiveness, and acupuncture is now accepted across the globe. Here are some of its positive effects on people:
Medical experts are looking into alternatives to prescription drugs in treating chronic pain. A 2012 study showed that acupuncture worked better in helping patients manage chronic headache, back and neck pain, shoulder pain, and osteoarthritis.
Acupuncture may be part of resolving the opioid problems and dangers, such as overdoses. It’s worth a second look, according to researchers.
For those who consider integrative treatment, adding acupuncture to cancer treatments may provide relief to nausea and vomiting — possible side effects of chemotherapy, radiation, therapies, and medications.
The treatment can be introduced to cancer patients in whatever stage they are. The use of clean and sanitized needles is of utmost importance to keep the weakened immune system from being further compromised.
Acupuncture can also aid in giving rest to pesky sleep disorders. It is said to rebalance your chi, reduce anxiety and stress, and thus, enhance your slumber. By having your body poked with needles, you can say goodbye to those sleep-deprived, restless nights. Try visiting an acupuncturist to improve your symptoms of insomnia or sleep apnea.
Side Effects of Acupuncture
Feeling fatigued after an acupuncture session is normal. If you’re experiencing this side effect, you may want to slow down and take the day off. Some acupuncturists may even advise you to clear your schedule during an appointment. Don’t worry about the downtime. A boost in your energy level the next day should make up for it.
If your energy increases right after the session, it’s no reason for worry as well. You may go about your day or get some rest. Set some alone time, and practice much-needed self-care hacks.
Muscle Soreness/Bleeding and Bruising
Muscle soreness may occur in spots where the needle has gone through. It can last for around 24 hours, causing some discomfort. But it’s nothing severe or threatening. Some people may not experience this side effect at all. Muscle spasms, on the other hand, can happen, in which case you have to inform your acupuncturist immediately.
Minor bleeding or bruising can also result from the insertion of needles. You should not stress about this as it will go away fast. Yet, take precautions if you have a bleeding disorder or are using blood thinners.
Other Side Effects
Some people faint or become lightheaded if they get up immediately after their session. This effect is likely to occur if you didn’t eat prior to your treatment. Others become more attuned to their feelings as acupuncture can relieve your body of emotional load. Don’t hold back the tears when you feel the urge to cry.
Your acupuncturist may apply heat or mild electrical pulses after inserting the needles. This step should not be included in the procedure for people who are using a pacemaker.
If pregnant, take note that acupuncture may stimulate labor and result in early delivery, depending on the application.
Always talk to your general physician or sleep doctor to ensure you have no conditions that can get worse due to acupuncture. Then, schedule an appointment only with a licensed and experienced acupuncturist.
Acupuncture vs. Acupressure
Acupressure is another alternative treatment you can try specifically for sleep disorders. It shares the same philosophy as acupuncture: the harmony between the yin and yang results in a healthy body.
But instead of poking needles on your body points, it applies pressure from fingers to initiate the rebalancing of your energy flow.
One advantage of acupressure is that you can do it at home. Before you book a session at the acupuncture center, you can try acupressure to manage your insomnia.
For 2 to 3 minutes, put some pressure and massage areas like the tender spot below your ankle bone and the hollow one under the crease of the wrist on your pinky side (also known as HT7).
If this approach provides some relief to your sleep problems, you may take advantage of having a professional acupuncturist use needles on your acupoints next.
Acupuncture for Insomnia
Having trouble falling or staying asleep is a common issue across the world. The Chinese, however, have an interesting take on insomnia. They relate this disorder with an energy imbalance. And treating can begin by dealing with the points on your meridians.
Your acupuncturist will treat you according to your symptoms, so it’s better if you have talked to your sleep doctor before your first session. Such a unique approach may require several treatments.
If it takes you longer to fall asleep, this may have to do with your yin energy blocking your yang energy. As a result, you find it hard to relax, which is necessary for drifting off. Getting up too early can be caused by blockage of the yin energy in your kidneys.
If you wake up often at night, it may signal trapped heat in your body, while acute insomnia can mean blood issues in your liver or spleen.
Many patients feel calm and relaxed during an acupuncture session, which is an essential condition for falling asleep.
On top of probing what’s preventing you from getting some zzzs, your acupuncturist may also look at removing your emotional baggage. For instance, they will treat liver meridian if you’re dealing with stress that awakens you right after dozing off. Too much worry is linked to the spleen meridian, manifested as waking up at around the same time each night.
Anxiety affects the heart meridian, which can fundamentally cause insomnia. Meanwhile, grief is tied to sleep interruptions in the night’s second half, signaling a problem in the lung meridian.
Read: Sleep and Mental Health: How Does Sleep Affect Mental Health?
Acupuncture Points for Insomnia
- Nei Guan or Inner Pass – Place three fingers’ width under the crease of your wrist, in between the two tendons, to find this spot. Also known as P6, this point can bring calmness to your heart and spirit. It can aid in treating insomnia, as well as reducing anxiety and motion sickness.
- Shen Men or Spirit Gate – We mentioned HT7 in an earlier section describing acupressure. It is the hollow space located on the pinky side of your outer wrist crease. As the Spirit Gate, this spot plays an important role in restoring the balance of your chi.
In Chinese philosophy, gates should be opened or closed accordingly. If a gate that should be open is closed, acupuncture will help open it to let your energy flow freely.
- ST 36 – The Chinese believe that the spirit of the Shen is found in the heart or blood. The lack of blood can lead to the spirit roaming around, which, in turn, can keep you up at night. This point helps increase blood and energy, which can be good for people with insomnia.
- Hall of Impression – This point is also known as the Yin Tang. It refers to the spot between your eyebrows. While it does not fall on the path of the meridians, it is considered a calming point. By calming the spirit, it can aid in managing insomnia, as well as headaches.
- Anmien or Anmian – Anmien is another calming point that is not part of the meridians. It is located right below your earlobe. Because of its calming effects, it can promote deep sleep or ease restlessness during sleep. It also works for people who are prone to having nightmares.
Using needles on this point requires the patient to lie on their back.
Acupuncture for Sleep Apnea
Sleep apnea is a breathing-related sleep disorder. The types include Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA) and Central Sleep Apnea. OSA happens when your breathing stops involuntarily and occasionally while you sleep. Central sleep apnea occurs when the brain fails to send the proper signals to the muscles that control your breathing.
Sleep apnea is often characterized by snoring.
Currently, OSA is treated via continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) therapy. Between 2007 and 2015, Brazilian and Chinese researchers performed multiple trials on two groups of sleepers. They found out that acupuncture could be more effective than CPAP. However, more research is needed to validate their conclusion.
Acupuncturists approach the breathing issue by stimulating the muscles of the upper airways, which get blocked during an episode of sleep apnea. They also target the tongue muscle for strengthening, preventing it from slipping backward and blocking the upper airways.
A type of acupuncture called the auriculotherapy acupoint pressure can also be applied to the ear’s outer portion. This focus is based on the belief that the ear contains a detailed map of the body, albeit in a micro version.
Acupuncture Points for Sleep Apnea
The Chinese medicine and philosophy behind acupuncture present for three possible causes of sleep apnea:
- Spleen – Your digestion may be out of whack, probably because you’re consuming the wrong food. This system imbalance may be causing your sleep apnea. And it is associated with your spleen, which is in charge of recycling blood and converting food contents into energy.
Improving the flow of energy in this organ can help relieve muscle tension. It may also remove that lump you’re feeling in your throat.
- Lungs – If blood stagnates, the chi cannot move freely throughout your body. This restriction can affect your lungs, which can then result in sleep apnea.
- Nose – Your respiratory path may be blocked by phlegm. Your acupuncturist will target points to melt the phlegm. At the same time, this method can eliminate the fatty tissue accumulating around your throat and larynx.
For instance, there is evidence pointing to acupuncture as having sleep-enhancing effects. Sticking needles into points that promote the flow of chi can bring about a calm and relaxed state — one of the necessary conditions for sleep. You just need to know which points to focus on.
So, using acupuncture for insomnia or sleep apnea requires the handiwork of specialists. An acupuncturist will help you determine the organ where your chi is stagnant. To do this, they should learn what exactly your complaint is. To give them accurate information, you need to consult your sleep doctor before booking an acupuncture session.
It may take some time, but these steps just show how integrative medicine can work. It will ask all parties to think out of the box, starting with you and your general physician or sleep doctor. Your acupuncturist may also have to take their cue from your sleep specialist. Call it a benevolent circle, if you will.
This ideal scenario should aid you in achieving a good night’s sleep. Integrative medicine may provide the path to beating insomnia, sleep apnea, or another sleep disorder.
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