New Survey of Acupuncture Trials for Insomnia

insomnia and chinese medicineI knew insomnia was widespread but I was dumbfounded when I read that a quarter of adolescents have symptoms! Recently too, in my office in San Mateo I’ve had a rush of people coming in with sleep problems.

Somebody told me the new peak of interest in acupuncture for insomnia is due to news about acupuncture increasing the content of lambda(?)-amino butyric acid which enhances sleep quality?? Cool.

I went looking and found that the recent November 2009 issue of The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine included a study that surveyed hundreds of previous studies published by Dec 2008 on the various modalities of traditional Chinese medicine for the treatment of insomnia. After filtering through them, their conclusions suggest that acupuncture and related modalities improve sleep quality and increase sleep duration.

The symptoms of insomnia include difficulty falling asleep, difficulty staying asleep, or sleep efficiency less than 85%; these occur more than 4 nights a week for at least 3 weeks. Insomniacs may feel tired, tense, lack motivation, have delayed reactions, or headache. Commonly used western medication includes hypnotic sedatives that may cause adverse side-effects such as memory damage, drug resistance, dependency, and addiction.

Of the hundreds of studies, 46 especially matched certain base criteria. Studies varied in use of body and ear acupuncture, electro, acupressure, herbal, and acupoint injections. In total, more than 3800 people, 2882 with primary insomnia, were included in trials that ranged from 2 days to 10 weeks. The acupuncture done on them was of course not the same, the acupoints chosen were not fixed, and the number of points selected per treatment ranged from 2 to 20.

Each of the included studies had its own approach to trials and ensuing conclusions. For example, some of the studies compared acupuncture versus no treatment, real acupuncture versus sham, acupuncture versus medication, and so on. The results: the majority showed that compared to no treatment, sham acupuncture, or medications, acupuncture was significantly better on improving sleep quality and duration, and the combination of acupuncture and other modalities appears more effective than those modalities alone.

Exciting news for sure.  My own clinical experience is that response time to treatment varies greatly, and the longer someone has been on western pharmaceuticals, the harder they are to treat, the longer it takes for them to get better.

One Comment


    On Jan 7th, 2010, Zhangji Fan wrote:
    This is great and encouraging information

    Acupuncture has certainly done wonders for my life-long issues with insomnia!

    Keep up the great work, Afshin

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