(NaturalNews) According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, approximately 40 percent of U.S. women and 30 percent of U.S. men suffer from insomnia, a condition characterized by difficulty falling or staying asleep. Fortunately, the traditional Chinese medical therapy of acupuncture may provide safe, effective relief and help millions get a good night' s sleep.
Lack of sleep can have a wide variety of negative consequences, from daytime drowsiness, irritability and occupational impairment to depression and an increased risk of various health problems. Unfortunately, the most common treatment for insomnia in the United States consists of pharmaceutical drugs such as sedatives, hypnotics and antidepressants, which may carry serious and dangerous side effects.
In contrast, acupuncture is considered noninvasive, safe and side effect free. It consists of inserting thin needles into specific parts of the body ("meridians") that vary depending upon the problem being treated.
A component of traditional Chinese medicine, acupuncture is also increasingly recognized as an effective, evidence-based therapy by the Western medical establishment. Traditionally, it is often combined with other Chinese therapies such as herbal treatments, diet and lifestyle modifications, and energy practices (such as Quigong).
Acupuncture and insomnia
An early review on the effectiveness of acupuncture as an insomnia treatment was conducted by a postdoctoral student at the University of Pittsburgh and published in the Journal of Advanced Nursing in 2003. The researcher reviewed 11 separate experimental studies published in the English language between 1975 and 2002. Every single study found that acupuncture treatment significantly improved the symptoms of insomnia.
Most of the studies had been led by Chinese medical doctors and published in either the International Journal of Clinical Acupuncture or the Journal of Traditional Chinese Medicine. The researcher noted that few of the studies reviewed, however, were randomized clinical trials.
Addressing this concern, a review of six separate randomized, controlled trials was published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine in 2009. All six studies were conducted in Hong Kong or mainland China, and all compared auricular (ear) acupuncture with either a placebo or another treatment. In four of the studies, auricular acupuncture was compared with pharmaceutical drugs, in another it was compared with routine non-interventionist care, while in another it was compared with "sham" auricular acupuncture (in which needles are inserted into random locations rather than the prescribed to meridians).
In contrast with the 2003 review, five of the studies included in the 2009 review had been published in Chinese.
The researchers found that across all six studies, auricular acupuncture performed better than the comparison or placebo treatments. Acupuncture produced better outcomes in terms of sleeping for at least six hours per night, remaining asleep during the night, and feeling refreshed at the time of waking.
In addition, patients who underwent auricular acupuncture actually recovered from their insomnia better overall than those who received treatment with the pharmaceutical drug diazepam (originally marketed as Valium).
Improve your sleep quality
Further evidence suggests that acupuncture may improve not just sleep duration, but also quality. One study, conducted by researchers from China's Affiliated Hospital of Sun Yat-sen University and published in the Chinese Medical Journal in 2009, found that four courses of electro-acupuncture therapy led to significant improvements in sleep quality (including REM sleep and slow wave sleep time) and in daytime social function. Notably, 67 percent of participants were still free of insomnia one month later.
"Electroacupuncture therapy could be a promising avenue of treatment for chronic insomnia," the researchers wrote.
Acupuncture treatments are now covered by many private health insurance plans in the United States.