Acupuncture isn’t just for pain: It helps you sleep better, studies show
12/28/2019 // Evangelyn Rodriguez // Views

Acupuncture is a 3,000-year-old traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) technique used to treat a variety of illnesses, particularly those that involve pain. The ancient Chinese believed that when the flow of energy or qi inside the body is disrupted, an individual's health suffers as a consequence. The illness that results from this can only be treated by releasing the blocked qi and allowing it to flow freely again. Hence, during acupuncture, thin sterilized needles are used to stimulate specific points throughout the body in order to free this qi. This action also serves to stimulate the body's natural healing process, which could help restore function to the affected body parts or organs.

But besides inducing healing and alleviating pain, acupuncture is also traditionally used to treat sleeping problems. In a study published in The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, researchers from China reviewed the results of randomized controlled trials (RCTs) to determine the effectiveness and safety of acupuncture as a treatment for primary insomnia. They reported that there is sufficient evidence supporting the ability of acupuncture to improve sleep quality without causing adverse effects. This makes acupuncture an excellent alternative to modern medications, which can cause unwanted side effects.

Acupuncture: An ancient healing art that can improve sleep

Acupuncture is widely used in Asia as an alternative treatment for insomnia. Its use in Western countries is also increasing. People who are suffering from insomnia are starting to rely more on acupuncture and other natural remedies like herbal therapy or physical therapy due to the adverse effects of modern medicine. Commonly used drugs for the treatment of insomnia like benzodiazepines and zaleplon are known to cause memory problems, drug resistance, drug dependency and even addiction.


According to TCM beliefs, acupuncture can regulate the complementary forces of yin and yang to restore health and balance and eliminate the cause of disease. This, then, helps an individual sleep better. Scientific investigation into acupuncture's effect on sleep quality reveals that this healing art can increase the levels of y-amino butyric acid (GABA), a brain neurotransmitter that can induce calmness and reduce negative emotions like stress, anxiety and fear. GABA can also increase relaxation, lower blood pressure and improve sleep.

For their analysis, the researchers searched 11 databases for studies conducted from January 2008 to October 2017. Two of the authors independently extracted data and assessed the risk of bias. The researchers then performed statistical analysis using RevMan 5.3 software, combined data in a meta-analysis according to pre-defined protocol and performed trial sequential analysis when appropriate. They also conducted Grading of Recommendations Assessment, Development, and Evaluation to assess the quality of evidence.

The researchers analyzed a total of 73 RCTs involving 5,533 participants. Pooled results showed that real acupuncture exerted better effects than no treatment on reducing Pittsburgh Sleep Quality Index (PSQI) scores. Meanwhile, acupuncture plus medications reduced PSQI scores more effectively than medications alone. Acupuncture also proved more beneficial than the insomnia drug estazolam and caused less adverse events than other western medications. (Related: Your insomnia may be caused by your diet! Not eating enough veggies and gorging on junk food makes you more restless.)

Based on these findings, the researchers concluded that acupuncture can safely improve the PSQI scores of patients with insomnia. However, the quality of evidence they obtained varied from very low to low due to the potential risk of bias and inconsistency among the included trials. The researchers believe that a large sample size and more rigorously designed RCTs are needed for further and more accurate evaluation.

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