Find a local acupuncturist
To search by other criteria - name, town - click here
Ask the Expert
Ask an expert - neuro and psycho logical - insomnia
Q: can acupunture definatley help with sleep problems
A: As our BAcC factsheet shows
there is some encouraging evidence which suggests that acupuncture has a role to play in helping people to deal with longstanding sleep problems. Indeed, the issue is a very topical one; we are just about to launch Acupuncture Awareness Week and Toyah Wilcox has lent her support to the venture because she found acupuncture to be a very effective solution to a sleep problem which she had had for many years. Her story can be found here:
From a Chinese medicine perspective there are a number of well established patterns which explain why the mind refuses to close down at night even though the person is physically exhausted. A skilled practitioner will want to know not simply about the sleeping patterns but about everything else to do with daily functioning, and it is highly probable that there will be other signs and symptoms which will show or confirm what is out of balance and needs to be corrected and harmonised.
Delightful as Toyah Wilcox's account is, though, her response to treatment was exceptional. One of the real problems with sleeplessness is that the body gets used to patterns or habits, and it can sometimes take a while for the system to realise that change is possible. We have found patients who couldn't sleep until 2.00am desperately hanging on till 2.00am even though they were now properly exhausted and ready for sleep 'because that's my bedtime'. Many people know this experience well from trying to go to bed at 9.00pm ready for a journey at 4.00am and finding it really hard to do. So, helping someone back to a good sleep routine can often be a challenge but there are success stories.
As we often remind people, though, Chinese medicine works from an entirely different paradigm. Insomnia doesn't have a single specified treatment, and each person who cannot sleep does so in a way that is unique to them. The best advice will always be that given after a brief face-to face assessment by a BAcC member local to you, who can have a quick look at the overall diagnostic picture and offer you a candid assessment of how acupuncture may be able to help you.
The link to find a BAcC member close to you www.acupuncture.org.uk/find
Q: Where on the body are the acupuncture points for someone suffering from insomnia please?
A: There are no fixed points on the body for specific named conditions. There are, of course, a number of points which are frequently used for treating commonly seen complaints, so you could say with about 75% certainty that treating headaches would probably involve a specific point on the upper surface of the foot, but the correspondence is not a simple one between the complaint and the point. Many headaches arise because of disturbances in the Liver energy, as understood in the language of Chinese medicine. The question which the practitioner will always address, however, is whether that is the primary cause of the problem, or whether something else is disturbing the system, and causing a knock-on effect on the Liver energy which in turn generates the symptom of headaches.
This may all sound like hair-splitting, but is actually the essence of how Chinese medicine can be so powerful. If the symptom is simply an alarm bell that shows that the system as a whole is out of kilter, then treating the symptom alone as though it were the problem will do very little, perhaps bring short term relief before the same, or other, symptoms develop again. This is why the BAcC is so committed to proper degree level of equivalent training for acupuncturists. If someone simply uses a point prescription book and sticks needles in according to dircet correspondences, the treatment may work, but it is equally likely that it won't, and the consequence will be that someone will conclude that 'acupuncture doesn't work' instead of the more accurate 'acupuncture done in this way by this person doesn't work.'
Traditional acupuncture treats the person, not simply the complaint, and the well-qualified practitioner will want to know why this particular person cannot sleep, and want to be able to help to deal with the problem in a way which brings sustained change. In our experience formula acupuncture for named conditions is neither as powerful nor as enduring as properly crafted diagnosis and treatment according to Chinese medicine principles.
As our two factsheets show
there is a growing body of evidence to suggest that acupuncture may be of value in treating both of these conditions. The research is still a little methodologically weak and not quite plentiful enough for us to give an unqualified recommendation, but both of these disorders have existed for thousands of years, and Chinese medicine, exactly as conventional does today, has developed a number of established protocols for the more frequent clinical presentations.
However, the real strength of Chinese medicine is that is sees all of the symptoms which a patient experiences as a part of an overall pattern rather than single and separate problems to be picked off one at a time. If someone is suffering from insomnia and depression it is highly likely that these are just a part of a much wider picture which probably contains a number of physical symptoms or dysfunctions, as well as mental and emotional components. A practitioner will want to spend time looking at all aspects of the way someone is functioning to make the most accurate assessment of what is happening in the individual patient, and to gain a better understanding of how the problems have arisen.
We would advise you to seek out a BAcC member local to you and arrange a short visit to discuss with them whether they think acupuncture might be a suitable option.
Q:I have insomnia caused by an over active mind. I have no trouble at all going to sleep, but I often wake in the night, usually to go to the toilet, and my mind starts racing and I can't go back to sleep. Please could you let me know if acupuncture can help with this sort of insomnia?
A: As far as insomnia itself is concerned, there have been many trials which seem to show that acupuncture may be of benefit to you. A systematic review at
which is effectively a review of all trials in order to aggregate their findings, makes the same positive noises with which we are familiar - 'signs that there is an effect but need larger trials to confirm'.
However, the great strength of Chinese medicine is that each person is unique and different, and no single disease label will ever capture that. Your experience of insomnia, while similar to others, will not be exactly the same, and it is the small details even in the brief note which you send which would excite the practitioner's interest. Getting to sleep originally but waking later, needing to go to the toilet, the description of the mind racing, your sense of having an over active mind - all of these suggest possible changes in the body's functions as understood in Chinese medicine which, together with signs which a practitioner uses like the reading the tongue and taking the pulse at the wrist, would lead them to a diagnosis unique to you. Treatment would then be aimed at correcting the specific imbalances which manifest in order encourage proper function again.
The practitioner would routinely ask a great many questions about lifestyle and daily habits, and there may well be some additional clues and keys in what they find. We're sure that you have eliminated the obvious culprits, like strong caffeine drinks towards the evening, and also too much liquid before sleeping, but there may be nonetheless things that you are eating, drinking or doing which, given your own specific patterns of energy, may be causing the cycle to continue. Of course, the worst problem is dealing with the expectation that once you wake you're awake, and that's that. For people who have never suffered insomnia this is difficult to understand, but rather like the film Groundhog Day, the dreadful feeling that it's 3.00am and you're awake exactly the same again is a hard one to describe to someone who has never experienced it.
Our best advice is to contact a BACC member local to you for a bried face to face chat about whether they think they can help your specific case, and if so, what their expectation might be. We trust that they will give you an honest assessment.
Q: I have had chronic insomnia for 7years i do not sleep at all. I dont have energy to fall asleep. My blood is very weak and not strong enough to help me fall asleep. I have a weak stomach and liver, i am anemic. I have digestion, absorption and assimulation problems, my muscles are weak and my eyes are dark and shrinked i am 31 years old please give me advice
A: We are very sorry to hear that you have such a range of problems, any alone of which would be of concern.
There is no doubt that we could provide you with whatever evidence exists on each of the areas you mention. Some of it is favourable, some of it less so. However, your case is exactly the kind of overall presentation which highlights the difference between the ways in which western and eastern medicine is practised. From a western perspective each symptom will offer a treatment route which may end up with a specific medication or a referral to a specialist. There is a possibility that some of the symptoms are inter-related, and we are always unhappy to see western medicine characterised as 'not holistic'. In our experience good doctors are just as concerned with the overall picture as anyone else, and always keen to establish links between symptoms.
However, Chinese medicine works from an entirely different understanding of physiology based on the flow of energy, called 'qi', and on different understanding of the organs of the body as functional units which govern all aspects of the body mind and emotions. The various symptoms which people experience point to failures of function, and because the whole system is based on inter-connection and inter-relationship, a skilled Chinese medicine practitioner will be able to make sense of what appears to be a chaotic situation and prioritise those areas of functions on which a primary focus needs to be made.
We are assuming from the language of your question that you have already been given some fairly detailed analyses of your health in western terms. If this is not the case, it is very likely that a practitioner might direct you to your GP alongside any treatment which they might offer. All of our members are trained sufficiently to recognise what are called 'red flag' conditions, problems for which conventional medical treatment is necessary as soon as possible. Some of the symptoms you describe in someone of your age might point to some important underlying pathologies, and a practitioner will want to be reassured as much as you do that this is not the case.
Our advice to you is to visit a BAcC member local to you to ask their advice on whether acupuncture treatment is appropriate for you, and we think that you should let them know in the conversation the extent of your consultations with conventional medical practitioners. We are sure that they will ask anyway, but if may help them to form a view if you have some form of brief record of your medical history with you.