How can acupuncture impact insomnia?
In our practice, people frequently mention problems they have surrounding sleep. When insomnia is recent, treatment resolves it quickly because acupuncture’s affect on the nervous system is strong, so when we focus on this issue the results can be profound. Long-term insomnia is a different scenario in part because the perception is that it’s an intractable struggle, but again, with patience, acupuncture and its modalities can break the undesirable habit of insomnia in most cases. In this blogpost we are summarizing the western and eastern approaches to treat sleep problems.
The Importance of Sleep
1. Sleep allows the body’s restorative metabolic processes to do their work.
2. The neutral position and inactivity of sleep allows the spinal discs to re-absorb fluid lost from the compression experienced throughout the day’s activities.
3. Sleep and the lack of sleep affects physiologic activity: immunity, the need for REM-cycle sleep, cardiovascular health, and psychiatric conditions are all subjects of ongoing research.
4. Sleep rids the body of the fragments of thoughts and feelings we have throughout the day. Research on cerebro-spinal fluid shows that’s part of its job as it cycles through our brain and spine.
Insomnia….as defined by Western Medicine
Insomnia is characterized by having difficulty getting to sleep, or staying asleep, or waking up several times during sleep, or experiencing non-refreshing sleep for at least one month.
There are two types of insomnia: primary and secondary. Primary insomnia derives from an unknown physical or mental condition. Secondary insomnia may be psychological, physiological, learned, and/or chronic, and it may be caused by a medical condition such as depression or pain.
Along with the suggestion of lifestyle changes, sedating drugs are the primary treatment.
Insomnia….as defined by Eastern Medicine
Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (AOM) characterizes insomnia similarly, viewing it through the lens, for lack of a better expression, of body-mind-spirit. Insomnia is not treated as a disease condition, but as a symptom.
Regulating sleep and dietary habits are emphasized, and we have methods of sedation as well. Our extra arrow in the quiver is our ability to free constraint, using gentle measures.
In a nutshell, constraint is created in response to events, good or bad, experienced as an inner gripping. Once this gripping is let go, the individual can move forward, naturally transitioning the bound mental and/or physical holding to a general sense of ease.
Think of the last time a stranger cut you off in your car or walking on the street. While you didn’t do anything to deserve this behavior, you now have to deal with it. You can crash into each other, you can deflect it and avoid it altogether, or, most commonly, have to suddenly alter your trajectory in the blink of an eye. Most people are a little shocked by such minor events and shake them off quickly. However, multiply the number of external and internal stimuli and events needed to navigate through a typical workday, and we see a lot of anxiety and stress, headaches, digestive disorders, and on and on, piling up and compounding difficulties with sleep.
East and West Agree
Common sense is elusive when we’re sleep-deprived, so here is the list of lifestyle recommendations both medical paradigms suggest:
- Avoid caffeine, alcohol, or nicotine after 1 pm
- Don’t take naps during the day
- Eat at regular times each day, and avoid large meals before bedtime
- Exercise long before going to bed so that your nervous system has time to settle down
- Keep on schedule: go to bed at the same time every night
- Figure out comfortable sleeping conditions:
- How much do you want the window open?
- How many blankets do you like?
- Use the bed only for sleep and sex
- Wind down by reading or bathing before bedtime, versus television or computer viewing
- If you can’t fall asleep within 30 minutes, get up and engage in quiet activity until you find yourself becoming sleepy
- Remove the anxiety from focusing on not being able to fall asleep
Acupuncture has the ability to create subtle movement inside of you, freeing up what has been bound for a feeling of being very grounded. Herbal formulas can help, and we always review diet, exercise, and healthy lifestyle habits as part of your treatment.
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