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Can acupuncture help cure insomnia?

Q:  Does acupuncture help to cure insomnia? I have been suffering from insomnia for many years. may be over 20 years. I have been taking over the counter remedies, such as Valerian,  hop and magnesium. 

A:  There is no doubt that acupuncture has been used with some success in treating imsomnia. As we wrote in a reply two years ago:

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.

We think that this still remains the best advice we can give. Indeed, the one thing which would concern us is that your sleeplessness has now been going on for over twenty years. As we said in the earlier reply, people get used to certain habits and patterns, and it can be very difficult to unpick these when they have existed fa long time. This can have some extraordinary consequences. Sometimes volunteers are employed by sleep clinics to keep people awake until 4.00am in an attempt to make the three hour sleep pattern end at a normal waking time, and then start trying to move the start time back while keeping the waking time. Insomniacs begging to be allowed to sleep - very strange!

It is always best never to prejudge the situation, though. From our perspective everyone is unique and different, and it could well be that a practitioner can trace patterns in your energy which, when corrected, make your sleeping easier and more refreshing. Let's hope so!


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