Can Acupuncture Help Sleep?


Last night I read Dr. Seuss’ “The Sleep Book” to my 6-year-old daughter and it worked like a charm. She was sleeping by the final page. I got the impression, by that point, that the “9 zillion 9 trillion and three creatures” were all asleep. Of course this is Dr. Seuss, but it surely made me think of the majority of my patients who do not easily fall asleep or stay asleep like my daughter or the 9 zillion plus creatures.


Do You Struggle With Sleep?


If you find that you have a difficult time falling asleep each night or easily awaken throughout the night for various reasons, you are in the majority from my observation. It’s not unusual to awaken because of the dog jumping on the bed in the middle of the night or your bladder telling you to wake up now, but are you then up for an hour or do you quickly fall back asleep? Do you tend to waken with the slightest of movements by the person lying next to you? Many people describe that familiar feeling of the mind just being on, not ready to let go of thinking while still lying in bed after two hours uncontrollably planning out the next day’s workload. Some are awoken multiple times with hot flashes and sweating, being overheated and uncomfortable. You may envy the way your 6-year-old child or the dog has such an easy time falling and staying asleep.


How Do You Feel During the Day?


One thing to consider is that it’s not necessarily the amount of hours you sleep that’s most important, but rather how you feel and operate during the day (coffee is not a factor here). Do you feel a sense of heaviness in your body or sleepiness of your mind? Or despite the five hours of sleep, does it seem to be enough to replenish you for functioning the next day? There are a certain number of hours of sleep advised depending on your age, but I see that we are each unique and may require less or more hours than the average. So pay attention to how you feel during the day to learn more about your specific body’s sleep needs.


Acupuncture, Chinese Medicine, and Unsettled Shen


So how can acupuncture help sleep? As an acupuncturist, I’ve observed how the nervous system and hormonal balance can be affected by stimulating certain points on the body. We speak in terms of yin and yang in Chinese Medicine, but you can simply think of that as meaning calming and activating. If there is not enough of the calming aspect of us during the nighttime, we tend to have a hard time falling asleep or awaken easily without readily falling back asleep. In Chinese Medicine, sleep is often related to the quality of “shen, ” which I simply interpret here to mean attention. Where one puts their attention throughout the day and night is reflective as to the state of the shen, which can also be translated as spirit or the mind. If you have a difficult time focusing on tasks, or you tend to focus obsessively on a fear or thought or memory, even without conscious awareness, these are signs of an unsettled shen. When you are easily awaken at night, or have a difficult time falling asleep or back asleep, these are also signs of an unsettle shen. Our attention should not ideally be focused outside of a sleep state during the nighttime (I realize some peoples’ jobs require them to do this differently). Acupuncture and certain Chinese herbs can help balance the body and calm the shen in order to successfully sleep and have effective energy throughout the day and acupuncture helps sleep.


Other Helpful Tips for Healthy Sleep


Though there are suggested public health standards, we individuals may vary slightly from the average. Some people can have caffeine after their dinner at 7 pm and not have any trouble while others really shouldn’t be drinking coffee or coca cola after lunch. How the liver processes caffeine can actually vary amongst us. This is similar with alcohol, which may make you drowsy but for some may cause restlessness after a few hours of sleep. Drinking alcohol after 6 pm may be affecting your sleep pattern. Some of us who vigorously exercise in the afternoon or evening, when we finally find time to do so, may cause our bodies to be too over activated to settle into sleep. You should consider toning down the intensity of your activity if you can only exercise at that hour.


You may find better sleep by having less clutter in your bedroom and only occupying it for sleep (sex is also alright). Get rid of anything unnecessary or move it to a different space. Many of us have become attached to our electronic devices and having a curfew for them up to three hours before going to bed may be necessary for your body to calm down to sleep. We are sensitive in different ways; it may be the amount of light or sound or air temperature degree or electronic stimulation. Pay attention to your habits if sleep is a struggle. It’s worth investigating where your body may be sensitive, as your quality of sleep affects your body’s overall health.


The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has declared insufficient sleep to be an epidemic in the US. If you’re struggling with this and may not be one of the “9 zillion 9 trillion and three” who sleep smoothly tonight, consider these tips and feel free to contact me at Integrative Acupuncture directly to help improve this aspect of your health.