Insomnia is a common complaint, affecting well over 25% of the US adult population. It has happened to us all: you’re exhausted and all you want is to tuck into bed and sleep forever, but instead, when you need it the most, you just lay there thinking…and waiting. It can prevent us from falling asleep or staying asleep through the night, and in some cases, our worst nightmare; it can affect both. Fighting with the Sandman affects many all over the world and makes it hard to get through the day with your normal responsibilities.
Causes and Effects
Sleeplessness has a variety of causes but most insomnia occurs as a result from emotional issues like anxiety, depression or PTSD, medications, delayed reaction to alcohol, caffeine or even some foods substances, or neurological problems which are diagnosed as Secondary Insomnia.
Insomnia can also be the result of health issues:
Chronic pain: Arthritis, Headaches, Injuries
Asthma or COPD
Digestive Disorders: GERD or Heartburn
Hot flashes or Menopause in Women
When the underlying root of the issue is found, insomnia can be improved or even resolved. When ignored or accepted as your “normal” sleep pattern, chronic sleep deprivation can impair your cognitive, social and occupational functions. A decrease in mental clarity with an inability to focus or problem solve increases daily stress, ultimately deteriorated your emotional well being.
What Exactly Is Insomnia?
People who experience insomnia have symptoms that range from difficulty falling asleep or only sleeping in short bursts or waking for long episodes during the night. When someone wakes up feeling exhausted as if they have not slept at all, they are not getting restorative sleep in the night which deteriorates your health. If this happens to you at least 3 times a week for more than 3 months, welcome to the world of chronic insomnia.
Acupuncture To The Rescue
There is help out there! Acupuncture greatly reduces insomnia. New patients are amazed by how relaxed they have become after an acupuncture treatment and many routinely fall asleep during their treatments! This is a lasting side effect of acupuncture’s mechanism of regulating the nervous system. Not only will you leave blissed out, but it will continue as you incorporate the sleep hygiene techniques to bring your circadian rhythm back into balance.
A 2013 clinical trial with people suffering from Acupuncture treats primary insomnia compared the efficacy between those that had acupuncture with a sleeping pill placebo, with those who took a sleeping pill and had “sham” acupuncture (needles inserted into non-acupuncture points), and those that had fake acupuncture and a placebo pill. Overall the acupuncture group without medication had the BEST results of reported increased quality of sleep, increased energy, increased normal functioning during the day, and less fatigue. Another 2005 study with Acupuncture treats pregnant women with insomnia in their second and third trimesters in Brazil, compared using only sleep hygiene routines like the ones described above, to using the techniques plus acupuncture. Their results showed that the acupuncture in combination with good sleep hygiene reduced overall insomnia by 50% over an eight-week time frame.
Alternatively, a gold standard clinical trial with women diagnosed with Acupuncture treats insomnia due to menopause. Participants received either regular acupuncture or fake acupuncture twice a week for 5 weeks. The outcome showed the true acupuncture group had lower incidence of depression, improved sleep quality, and increased quality of life. In Korea, a study was done with older adults with insomnia using auricular acupuncture, or needles inserted into points on the ear. The results were found to have a significant reduction in sleeplessness in the participants. Additionally, the effects of the acupuncture were felt for another 2 weeks after it was performed. Lastly, a study with Acupuncture treats college students with insomnia aimed to measure the efficacy of acupuncture in conjunction with cupping. Those with moderate sleeplessness who received acupuncture with cupping were found to sleep better or be cured, as well as require fewer treatments thereby showing a greater therapeutic effect.
What Lifestyle tweaks can YOU do today to relieve your Insomnia?
First, talk to your practitioner about all over the counter and prescription medications, supplements and herbs. You may need to adjust the timing of when you are taking them or there may be an alternative that is not mentally stimulating.
Limit caffeine consumption to the morning – you knew I was going to say this, right!
As our metabolism slows down with age, it takes longer for women to process coffee and alcohol – wine in particular with the high sugar content gives you an insulin surge as you sleep, causing night wakings.
Incorporate foods that are great for sleep into your diet
Both almond milk and tart cherry juice are naturally high in melatonin, the hormone that regulates our sleep and wake cycles, but make sure to get the unsweetened versions since the sugar will do the opposite. Most fish contain vitamin B6, which is needed to make melatonin, but specifically un-farmed tuna, salmon, halibut, as well as bananas and chickpeas. High glycemic index carbs at dinner, such as jasmine rice and veggies, may trigger insulin and result in your body making more tryptophan and we all know what happens after eating tryptophan-rich turkey on Thanksgiving! If you are calcium deficient like a lot of people, then organic yogurt and milk or dark leafy greens like kale may be the key for you. Magnesium relaxes muscles and in turn, can help you stay asleep. It can be found in whole grains such as bulgur, barley, as well as nuts, seeds, beans, and more.
Regular Exercise improves your sleep
I know, not what you wanted to hear it because you are so exhausted it is hard to imagine having the energy for exercise! Shift from aerobic exercise at the end of the day which may be surging your cortisol, waking your body up when you want it to settle down. Instead get out for a walk on your lunch break or after work, try yoga or Qi Gong. Think about it in terms of gently moving your body through the day – get those 10,000 steps in, it makes a big difference. If you are up for more aerobic exercise, do it first thing in the morning when we want to encourage a rise in cortisol to wake up our bodies, minds and boost metabolism. You will have more energy during the day and will drop into sleep more easily at night.
Avoid getting a second wind
When your eyelids get heavy, sink into bed with a good book and call it a day! Make a note of the hour that you feel the drowsiest and back up from there with all the things you need to do to wrap up your day, including getting the kids to bed. Ideally, give yourself an hour of settling into your sleep routine, avoiding screens and drift to sleep by 11 pm. When we keep pushing through past this time, we get a second wind making it difficult to settle back down for several more hours.
Good Sleep Hygiene
The National Sleep Foundation recommends 7-9 hours of sleep for adults…easier said than done!
Here are some tips to help your sleep hygiene
- Winding down an hour or more before bedtime can help some relax enough to fall asleep faster.
- Dim the lights in your room and turn off all electric devices such as the TV, cell phone, computer, or anything that gives off a blue light that mimics daylight. However, listening to calming music would be an exception to this rule.
- Use blackout curtains to seal out any exterior lights and use a white noise machine or app to drown out any sounds that could disturb you.
- Check your mattress: is it old, has it been flipped lately, is it the right softness/firmness you like?
- Take a hot Epsom salt bath to relax your muscles and aid in falling asleep. Adjust the temperature in the room – 65 degrees is considered the best temp for sleep
- Stick to a routine bedtime and morning wake up time to encourage a normal sleep cycle.
Restorative sleep is essential to your health and emotional well being
Common lifestyle tips are helpful but studies show that these changes in routine are even more successful with the addition of acupuncture treatments. Acupuncture has a cumulative effect. Consistent weekly appointments for approximately 4-6 weeks should give you progressive improvement with insomnia. Regular sleep keeps your weight in check, makes your skin glow, promotes proper immune system functions. Sleep supports brain health, reduces the risk for dementia, lowers your blood pressure which reduces your risk for heart disease. Also, it is extremely important to your mental and physical state as this is when your body is regenerating and healing itself while you rest. It is a natural anti-depressant, improving moods, mental focus, and joy of Life. If you are lacking, it may also lead to issues with mood swings, anxiety, and depression.
Work with a Licensed Acupuncturist to find the root cause of your sleeplessness. East Asian Medicine shows that there are many causes for any one particular symptom, in this case, insomnia. East Asian Medicine practitioners will diagnose you with your particular pattern that is causing insomnia and create a treatment plan of acupuncture and herbs suited specifically for you. Treating insomnia with acupuncture, herbs, and cupping in conjunction with good sleep hygiene techniques is the best medicine.
Please call us at (503) 281-0030 for more information about how we can help resolve your insomnia or any other ailments that stop you from feeling your best every day.
Da Silva, JB., et al. Acupuncture for insomnia in pregnancy–a prospective, quasi-randomized, controlled study. Acupunct Med. 2005 Jun;23(2):47-51. doi: 10.1136/aim.23.2.47
Guo, J., et al. Efficacy of Acupuncture for Primary Insomnia: A Randomized Controlled Clinical Trial. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2013; 2013: 163850. doi: 10.1155/2013/163850
Hachul H. et al. Acupuncture improves sleep in postmenopause in a randomized, double blind, placebo-controlled study. Climacteric. 2013 Feb;16(1):36-40. doi: 10.3109/13697137.2012.698432.
Kim, KB., et al. Auricular acupuncture for insomnia: duration and effects in Korean older adults. J Gerontol Nurs. 2007 Aug;33(8):23-8; quiz 30-1. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17718375
Montakab H. Acupuncture and insomnia. Forsch Komplementarmed. 1999 Feb;6 Suppl 1:29-31. DOI:10.1159/000057127
National Institute of Health. Insomnia. NHLBI Health Topics [Internet]. 2014. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmedhealth/PMHT0023585/
Zhang YF. Acupuncture plus cupping for treating insomnia in college students. J Tradit Chin Med. 2010 Sep;30(3):185-9. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21053624