In order to begin and maintain sleep the autonomic nervous system and hormones need to be balanced. Several studies have revealed that with acupuncture therapies the restoration of homeostasis can be restored and the balance of the natural chemicals in the central nervous system can be maintained.
1. Acupuncture improves the quality of sleep by boosting blood flow in the body – A study led by Hecht observed the connection between sleeplessness (insomnia) and blood circulation. The study saw that when the flow of blood to the brain was insufficient, it led to low blood sugar levels and involuntary waking from sleep. Another study dealt with the consequences of poor circulation to the brain on the malfunctioning of different organs. Most of the subjects whose blood pressure in the head was extremely low (< 30 mmHg bilaterally), experienced sleeping difficulties but occasionally, also various levels of irritability, forgetfulness especially of recent events, concentration problems, and extreme sleepiness. A person may still experience low blood pressure in the head even with normal or higher blood pressure in the arm. It has been revealed that with electro-acupuncture stimulation of the GB 20 and St 36 acupoints (just below the occipital bone, between the sternocleidomastoid and trapezius attachments) insomnia can be treated by raising the circulation of blood to the brain.
2. Acupuncture causes the body to manufacture more melatonin – The Journal of Neuropsychiatry and Clinical Neuroscience published an article that examined the connection between acupuncture treatments and melatonin. Researchers saw that there was a significant increase in the secretion of endogenous melatonin in all 18 participants suffering from severe insomnia who were treated with acupuncture for five weeks, two times a week. Based on muscular and electrical measurements during the subjects’ entire sleeping time, it was shown that the subjects took less time to fall asleep, had a longer total sleeping time, experienced fewer instances of waking up during sleep, and enjoyed deep sleep time, after acupuncture treatments. Fatigue, depression, and anxiety were also reduced. Interestingly, alertness in the morning was also decreased.
3. Acupuncture in Bellmore treats insomnia by reducing stress hormones in the bloodstream – People who constantly overwork and over-think are under chronic stress, their bodies overproduce cortisol that keep them awake and alert during the daytime. People experiencing acute stress causes their body to manufacture norepinephrine and adrenaline (epinephrine). Both these stress hormones profoundly affect a person’s quality of sleep. A Pennsylvania State University study led by Vgontzas evaluated the connection of chronic insomnia to the process of the stress system. The study rated the levels of norepinephrine, free cortisol, and the subjects’ urine and discovered that the level of free cortisol positively correlated with total wake time; the duration of stage 1 sleep positively correlated with levels of norepinephrine but negatively with stage 3 and 4 (deep) sleep duration. Both systems connected to the stress system (the sympathetic nervous system and adrenal gland systems) are responsible for the disturbances in sleep experienced in chronic insomnia. So, when we are stressed, sleep tends to become lighter which causes us to wake up more frequently. With acupuncture we can reduce our stress hormone levels, lessening wake time and raising time for deep sleep. Cortisone is widely known to affect sleep as seen when one gets a shot of hydro cortisone.
4. Acupuncture relieves pain – The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia conducted a study dealing with the effects of chronic pain on adolescents’ sleep patterns. The study found that there was no difference between the healthy control group and the pain group in bedtime and total sleep time. But the group with chronic pain experienced more instances of night waking, significantly longer onset of sleep latency, later wake times in the morning, and more signs of daytime sleepiness. Acupuncture produces a powerful analgesic effect which can assist people suffering from pain enhance their quality of sleep.
5. Acupuncture slows down the effects of aging – Systemic inflammation, edema or fluid retention, erectile dysfunction, insomnia, constipation, irregular and increased heartbeats, and other signs of aging can ensue when parasympathetic function starts to weaken. These effects can, in turn, increase the risk of several common health conditions associated with aging, including arteriosclerosis, Alzheimer’s, Type-II diabetes, and cancer. The restoration and maintenance of parasympathetic function may slow the aging process and improve the functions of the internal organs. It has been proven that acupuncture has the ability to improve the function of the parasympathetic nervous system.
To conclude, by enhancing optimizing the metabolism and manufacturing of chemicals that help balance our nervous systems and affect sleep, acupuncture can support the duration and proper pattern of sleep.