Is acupuncture the answer to a good night’s sleep?

Sleep deprivation has become a common concern among most people, especially in the post-Covid world. However, if chronic, lack of sleep can exacerbate chronic illnesses such as diabetes, hypertension, and depression, apart from impairing your cognitive abilities. As such, for relief, many people turn to yoga and meditation; but for many others, these remedies may not work. In such a case, is there any other solution?

Turns out many people are finding an answer to treat insomnia and improve sleep quality in an ancient Chinese Medicine system called acupuncture. This is because acupuncture “may be one of the alternative methods to treat insomnia, with little side effects”, a study, published in the National Library of Medicine, stated. But, what exactly is it?

What is acupuncture?

Acupuncture is a technique that involves inserting needles into the skin to stimulate certain areas of the body, explained Dr Santosh Pandey, Acupuncture and Naturopathy Specialist, Rejua Energy Centre, Mumbai. “According to traditional Chinese medicine, our bodies are made up of thousands of acupoints which, when balanced, create vital energy. An imbalance blocks the flow of qi (energy of being), and acupuncture is said to rebalance the body’s flow and restore physiological functioning,” he said.

Agreeing, Dr Anjali Sharma, Naturopathy and Acupuncture Physician, Founder, Shuddhi Naturopathy Clinic said that when needles are inserted in these specific points, they work to balance the energy or ‘chi’. “If a part of the body is in pain or diseased, the chi energy is imbalanced in that part or organ. The points selected help balance this energy,” she said.

Can it help aid sleep?

As discussed, sleep is vital for good health and the proper functioning of our bodies. However, it fails to come easily to everyone resulting in difficulty falling asleep or difficulty staying asleep, or waking up too early. “These symptoms often occur regularly for weeks, with no clear cause,” Dr Pandey said.

Among treatment options such as stress reduction techniques, improved sleep hygiene, cognitive behavioral therapy, medication and herbal supplements, acupuncture, too, is commonly used to cure insomnia, experts said.

The influence of acupuncture on controlling melatonin and adenosine is critical for harmonizing the body’s natural cycle. (Source: Pexels)

Calling it an “effective treatment for insomnia”, Dr Pandey said, “Acupuncture is earning recognition as a useful alternative treatment for insomnia because it has fewer side effects than the medications prescribed for sleep and is generally easily available. Some commonly prescribed sedatives used to treat insomnia can cause a person to feel drowsy the next day, experience cognitive impairments, or become dependent on the drug.”

He cited research saying that acupuncture significantly improves sleep quality and duration when compared to no treatment, medications or sham acupuncture. “Treating insomnia with a conventional method of treatment and acupuncture may also be more effective than the individual treatment without acupuncture,” he said.

How does it happen?

Experts noted that melatonin, a hormone that induces sleep, may be increased by acupuncture. Additionally, it increases blood flow to sleep-inducing brain regions, particularly when done on the scalp.

“The influence of acupuncture on controlling melatonin and adenosine is critical for harmonizing the body’s natural cycle. Melatonin is released at night to promote drowsiness and allow you to sleep, but adenosine is released all day to keep us active,” Dr Sharma said.

She added that acupuncture helps boost gamma-aminobutyric acid and serotonin levels in the brain, improving sleep quality. Furthermore, the endocrine system is altered, resulting in a nocturnal rise in endogenous melatonin release. Acupuncture is also thought to normalize the sleep-wake cycle,” the expert added.

Things to know before an acupuncture session

Dr Sharma shared that acupuncture is a very safe practice and has low chances of side effects when performed by a qualified acupuncture and naturopathy physician. “It is even safe during pregnancy,” she added, sharing some tips one must keep in mind.

*Food should be consumed two hours before the treatment.
*Wear loose-fitting clothes.
*Avoid caffeine.
*Avoid heavy exercise before and after the treatment.
*Take rest for at least 2-3 hours after the treatment.
*Preferably, avoid long drives and prolonged screen time.

Who should avoid it?

While it is usually a safe procedure, the expert advised precaution for patients with bleeding disorders or who are on heavy blood thinners. Avoid “immediately after surgery when the effect of anesthesia is still there, during pregnancy, in case of inflammatory conditions like fever, redness and swelling, and also if the patient has pacemakers. Avoid during menstrual cycles and on the site of surgery or injury,” she concluded.

(Next in the series: Can your sleeping position improve digestion)

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