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Acupuncture isn’t just for pain: It helps you sleep better, too

Insomnia is a sleep disorder that affects millions of people around the world. In the U.S., about 30 to 40 percent of adults report experiencing insomnia annually. Many factors are said to contribute to insomnia. These include psychological conditions, such as anxiety or depression, and medical conditions that cause severe pain.

Acupuncture is an ancient healing technique that has gained a lot of traction over the past decade. Many studies vouch for the therapeutic efficacy of acupuncture, especially in providing relief from painful conditions, such as rheumatoid arthritis, sciatica, dysmenorrhea, peptic ulcers and low back pain.

But pain relief is just one of the many benefits offered by this age-old technique. According to Chinese researchers, acupuncture can also help people with insomnia. They arrived at this conclusion after reviewing evidence from randomized controlled trials (RCTs) that assessed the effectiveness and safety of acupuncture for primary insomnia.

The researchers discussed their findings in an article published in The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine.

Acupuncture helps improve sleep quality

Acupuncture is an ancient Chinese medicinal practice that aims to promote natural healing and improve a person’s quality of life. Acupuncture involves the use of sterile needles, which are inserted at very specific points along the body to stimulate dysfunctional organs. This action is also believed to release blocked energy or qi, which is believed to be the root cause of all diseases.

In recent years, western countries have begun to accept acupuncture as an alternative treatment. Some notable symptoms and conditions for which acupuncture is now used include depression, allergic rhinitis, postoperative pain, headaches, low and high blood pressure, stroke, nausea and vomiting, acute and chronic gastritis, and neck and facial pain.

To determine the suitability of acupuncture as a treatment for insomnia, the researchers searched 11 databases from January 2008 to October 2017 for relevant RCTs. Two of the study authors independently extracted data from these trials and assessed risk of bias.

The researchers performed statistical analysis using software and combined data in a meta-analysis according to a predefined protocol. They also performed trial sequential analysis when appropriate and assessed the quality of evidence using Grading of Recommendations Assessment, Development, and Evaluation (GRADE).

The researchers analyzed 73 RCTs that involved a total of 5,533 participants. Their analyses revealed that real acupuncture treatment yielded better results than no treatment by reducing the participants’ Pittsburgh Sleep Quality Index (PSQI) scores.

Acupuncture, combined with medications, also had better results than medications alone and decreased PSQI total scores. Compared with estazolam, a drug used for the short-term treatment of insomnia, acupuncture had a better effect on the participants’ PSQI scores. Acupuncture also caused fewer adverse events than conventional medications.

Based on these findings, the researchers concluded that acupuncture benefits people with insomnia by improving their sleep quality. The researchers recommend a larger sample size and more rigorously designed RCTs to further explore this benefit.

What to expect from acupuncture

While scientists still do not understand the science behind acupuncture, many theories on how it works have been proposed. According to one, acupuncture can trigger the release of endorphins, the brain chemicals that relieve stress and pain. Meanwhile, another theory suggests that acupuncture can influence the autonomic nervous system, including the release of chemicals that regulate blood pressure and circulation, reduce inflammation and calm the brain.

The effectiveness of acupuncture in relieving pain and improving sleep quality is backed by scientific evidence. However, people respond to treatments differently, so don’t be alarmed or surprised if your body takes more time to respond to acupuncture than others. For your peace of mind, consult with a trusted natural health expert before trying acupuncture and receive treatment only from a certified or licensed acupuncturist.

Sources include: 1 2

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