Easing Insomnia Symptomes with Acupuncture

by Amy Highland

tired man.jpg

Do you always feel tired? Although feeling exhausted may seem like the norm in modern society, it may be an indicator that you have insomnia. Most people experience insomnia for days to weeks. It’s often the result of a stressful event, like a big project at work or a death in the family. However, some people have insomnia for months.

At some point, the symptoms of sleep deprivation are too onerous to ignore. The irritability and increased likelihood of getting sick may convince you to consider taking steps to get better sleep.

Symptoms of Insomnia

People often envision insomnia as not sleeping for nights on end. However, it does not have to be that dramatic. Waking up during the night can be a symptom of insomnia according to the Mayo Clinic, a highly regarded nonprofit academic medical center based in Rochester, Minnesota[1]. Daytime tiredness or sleepiness is also an indicator of insomnia. These symptoms aren’t necessarily concerning in small amounts, but it’s time to improve your sleep health when it becomes hard to function normally during the day.


One way to start improving your sleep health is to address causes of insomnia. Stress can make it difficult to fall asleep and stay asleep (Han et al, 2012) [2]. Taking the time to relax and calm your anxiety before bed may help you sleep better.

Stress Relief as a Treatment

Yoga and acupuncture can help to reduce your stress and help you sleep better. Yoga has been found to be reduce stress and improve sleep patterns (Woodyard, 2011) [3].Twice-weekly yoga practice was shown to reduce work stress and improve sleep for nurses (Fang and Li 2015) [4]. Acupuncture has also been shown to reduce stress in rats (Eshkevari et al, 2015) [5], using a pressure point that rats and humans share. Rats who received real acupuncture (as opposed to sham acupuncture) had as much anxiety as the control group, which did not see any stressful situation. The rats that received acupuncture appeared as if they hadn’t been stressed at all. The ability to reduce stress may make acupuncture an effective insomnia treatment as well.


Cao et al (2009) [6] reviewed randomized controlled trails in order to compare the effectiveness of medication and acupuncture on improving sleep. Patients treated with Western medicines and acupuncture (separately) had similar sleep durations. Acupuncture actually increased sleep duration  for more patients than the medication.

Melatonin as a Treatment

Stress relief may not be only one way that acupuncture helps people sleep. The treatment may also increase the body’s production of melatonin, a hormone that makes you feel sleepy. Many people take melatonin supplements as an alternative to prescription medications. A study by Chao et al (2001) [7] showed that the anti-seizure effect of electroacupuncture was due to increased melatonin production. A later study (Spence et al, 2004) [8] showed that increased melatonin in the people who had acupuncture treatments led to better sleep quality.

Additional Ways to Improve Sleep

Acupuncture can be combined with other lifestyle remedies to treat insomnia more effectively. So why not try a twice-weekly yoga session and a weekly acupuncture treatment. You can also use herbs, such as lavender, to calm your mind at night (Koolivand et al, 2013) [9]. Consider improving your sleeping space as well. Cost effective options include waiting for the best time to buy a discounted mattress [10] or adding blackout curtains, which reduce the amount of distracting light pollution in your room.


If you are suffering from insomnia, even temporarily, there are lifestyle changes and alternative treatments that can improve your sleep.


[1] Insomnia. Mayo Clinic

[2] Stress and Sleep Disorder

Han KS, Kim L, Shim I. Exp Neurobiol. 2012 Dec;21(4):141-50. doi: 10.5607/en.2012.21.4.141. Epub 2012 Dec 26.

[3] Exploring the therapeutic effects of yoga and its ability to increase quality of life

Catherine Woodyard Int J Yoga 2011 Jul-Dec; 4(2): 49–54.

[4] A regular yoga intervention for staff nurse sleep quality and work stress: a randomised controlled trial.

Ronghua Fang, Xia Li Journal of CLinical Nursing 12983, 2015

[5] Effects of Acupuncture, RU-486 on the Hypothalamic-Pituitary-Adrenal Axis in Chronically Stressed Adult Male Rats

Ladan Eshkavari, Susan E. Mulroney, Rupert Egan, and Lixing Lao Endocrinology, Volume 156, Issue 10, 1 October 2015, Pages 3649–3660

[6] Acupuncture for Treatment of Insomnia: A Systematic Review of Randomized Controlled Trials

Huijuab Cao, Xiangfang Pan, Hua Li, and Jianping Liu J Altern Complement Med. 2009 Nov; 15(11): 1171–1186.

[7] Chao DM, Chen G, Cheng JS: Melatonin might be one possible medium of electroacupuncture anti-seizures. Acupunct Electro-Ther Res 2001; 26:39–48 Medline

[8] Acupuncture increases nocturnal melatonin secretion and reduces insomnia and anxiety: a preliminary report.

Spence DW, Kayumov L, Chen A, Lowe A, Jain U, Katzman MA, Shen J, Perelman B, Shapiro CM.

J Neuropsychiatry Clin Neurosci. 2004 Winter;16(1):19-28

[9] Lavender and the Nervous System Koulivand PH, Khaleghi Ghadiri M, Gorji A.

Evidence Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine 2013;2013:681304


Author Bio

Amy Highland is a sleep expert at She loves taking naps during thunderstorms and cuddling up with a blanket, book, and cats.


The Water Element in Chinese Medicine


There are five elements in Chinese Medicine: Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal and Water. Five element acupuncturists use this system to determine which element in a person requires most support. Working on that element helps to bring balance to the person. The Water Element in Chinese Medicine relates to Winter, to cold, to the colour blue/black, to groaning and to fear (Hicks et al, 2004). Water is the most yin of all elements. It takes the shape of it's container such as a reservoir or a river bed. The Bladder and Kidney meridians are related to the Water Element. The Spirit of the Kidneys is called the Zhi. It gives us the drive and motivation to get things done.

On a physical level the excess and deficiency of the Water Element can cause problems. This can be seen in floods and drought. Water controls Fire. A fireman will use water to put out a fire. The power of Water is storage. Animals store food so the can hibernate over Winter. On an emotional level the Water Element relates to fear. Our response to fearful stimuli is how it manifests. When the Water Element is in balance we can use our fear to avoid dangerous situations like predators, cliff edges and fire. Such a person should be able to respond positively to reassurance. A lack of fear may lead us to engage in extreme sports. An excess of fear may lead to agitation of the mind body and spirit.


Hicks, Hicks and Mole, 2004, Five Element Constitutional Acupuncture, Churchill Livingstone

Acupuncture treatment of Frozen Shoulder

Approximately 5% of the UK population will suffer from frozen shoulder at some point in their life. Frozen shoulder (adhesive capsulitis) is an extremely painful and sometimes disabling condition in which the movement of the shoulder is restricted. It can last for months or years. The symptoms include pain, stiffness, redness and contraction.


The NHS describes frozen shoulder as being caused by the inflammation and thickening of the flexible tissue that surrounds the shoulder joint, known as the capsule. Factors which increase the likelihood of developing a frozen shoulder include:

  • a previous shoulder injury or shoulder surgery
  • diabetes due to the reduced micro circulation
  • Dupuytren's contracture (a progressive painless thickening and tightening of the tissue of the hands and fingers)
  • other health conditions, e.g. high cholesterol, heart disease and stroke

The Shoulder Joint

The shoulder joint is normally flexible and elastic. The humerus, the scapula and the clavicle form the shoulder joint. The synovial fluid in the joint lubricates it. The four muscles of the rotator cuff allow the shoulder to rotate and help keep it in place. The subscapularis allows the arm to rotate medially (inwards). The Teres minor and the Infraspinatus externally rotates the arm. The Supraspinatus abducts the arm (brings it closer to the body.)


The joint is assessed to ascertain the range of motion and any painful points. Frozen shoulder is treated by a combination of acupuncture and massage. Massage helps to improve blood flow to the area. Acupuncture helps with the pain, reduces inflammation, enhancing local micro-circulation and stimulating nerves located in muscles and other tissues, leading to release of endorphins the body's painkillers. Moxa on a needle can also help to bring warmth to the affected area. Advice is also given on gentle stretching exercises which gradually increase the range of motion of the shoulder.

Shoulder Exercises

Shoulder Exercises

Adjust your posture

You can help to reduce subscapularis-related shoulder pain by adjusting your posture—while awake and sleeping.

When sitting in front of a computer avoid slumping forward because this forces the arms to rotate into an uncomfortable position, which trigger pain in the subscapularis muscle. When sat at your desk, keep moving your arms. Reaching the arm up and behind the head will help to stretch the subscapularis muscle.

When walking allow your arms to swing freely. 

Sleep with a pillow

An extra pillow can help. If you’re sleeping on the painful side, place the pillow between your elbow and the side of the body. This helps to move the arm away from the body, which stretches the subscapularis muscle. If you sleep on the pain-free side, put the pillow in front of you so that the painful arm can rest on it.

Acupuncture Treats Drug Addiction

Pain Pathways

Pain Pathways

Acupuncture has been shown to treat drug addiction. Clinical trials are taking place to determine the how effective it is. Previous studies including a study in the Lancet (August, 2003)  showed that suppressed the clinical features of heroin withdrawal. The mechanisms by which acupuncture works in a Western Medical context are still poorly understood. Additional research using animal models is helping to do this. Long term exposure to drugs of abuse produces a withdrawal state. This state is characterized by the increases in brain reward thresholds. The acute administration of the drug produces opposite effects. The difference in the short term and long term effects of the drug may be a causal factor in the intense drug craving experienced by addicts.

Dopamine Pathways   

Dopamine Pathways


There are four major dopaminergic tracts in the brain. The reinforcing effects of drugs have been linked to central dopamine activity in the mesolimbic dopaminergic tract which runs from the ventral tegmental area to many components of the limbic system. Dopamine is a catecholamine transmitter in the Central Nervous System (CNS), which plays a major role in reward-motivated behavior. Research has shown that  acupuncture directly or indirectly affects the mesolimbic dopamine system. This suggests that acupuncture helps to maintain the balance between excitatory and inhibitory processes involved in drug addiction. The results also suggests that the regulation of neurotransmitters in the CNS may be one of the therapeutic modes of action of acupuncture. Further studies are required to demonstrate if acupuncture effects any of the other neurotransmitters that regulate dopamine release.

Acupuncture treats alcohol addiction

Alcoholism dependence is a chronic relapsing disorder that constitutes the third leading cause of morbidity and mortality worldwide. Craving is one of the most important symptoms of alcohol dependence and is a predictor of relapse (Lee et al, 2015)

Acupuncture reduces alcohol cravings in alcoholics (Bullock et al, 2001). In a large randomized placebo controlled study of auricular acupuncture for alcohol dependence 49% of subjects reported acupuncture reduced their desire for alcohol. The results of a study (Bullock et al 1987) suggest that acupuncture may be able to interdict the cycle of alcoholic recidivism. Karst et al, (2002) studied ear and body acupuncture in the treatment of alcohol withdrawal symptoms. Analysis of the results using the Clinical Institute Withdrawal Assessment (CIWA-Ar-scale) data showed that patients assigned to acupuncture had a general tendency towards better outcome results and significantly fewer withdrawal symptoms on day 14.  Other researchers note that acupuncture is both safe and effective for reducing cravings in alcohol dependent patients. They add that acupuncture is an inexpensive modality of care for the treatment of alcoholism and “produces significant results.”

Lee et al 2015 studied the effect of Zhubin (KI9) in reducing alcohol cravings in patients with alcohol dependence. This study breaks from other research on this topic. Prior research focused on National Acupuncture Detoxification Association (NADA) acupuncture point prescriptions for addiction. This typically involved use of auricular acupuncture points including Kidney, Sympathetic, Shenmen, Liver and Lung. However, this study used only one acupuncture point that is located on the lower leg. The researchers note of this acupuncture point, “Traditionally, it has been used as an acupoint for detoxification.”  “The results showed that the acupuncture treated group had a significant craving reduction compared with the control group. Acupuncture treatment on Zhubin (KI9) was effective from the 1st week of treatment and its effect lasted through the 4 weeks.”

What’s the Point?
The acupuncture point investigated in the research is Zhubin (KI9) that is translated as “guest house.” It is located on the medial aspect of the lower leg and is 5 cun superior to KI3. It is approximately 1 cun posterior to the medial border of the tibia at the lower end of the gastrocnemius muscle. It is placed on a line drawn between KI3 and KI10.

KI9 is the Xi Cleft point of the Yinwei (Yin linking) vessel. This is the channel that connects the yin meridians of the hand and foot to the Conception channel. The Yinwei vessel may also be accessed by acupoint PC6, the confluent point of the Yinwei vessel. To achieve this, PC6 is often paired with SP4, its paired confluent point for the treatment of heart, chest and stomach disorders.

This study used only KI9, whose Yinwei vessel connection makes it especially suitable for the treatment of heart issues. In particular, this point benefits patients with heart shen (spirit) issues due to phlegm and phlegm-fire. This includes the treatment of mania, raving, bipolar disorder (manic depression) and other forms of severe mental illness. Here, there is a logical consistency with the application of KI9 for the treatment of alcohol cravings given alcoholism’s propensity for causing phlegm-fire in the heart.

Auricular Acupuncture Points
Kidney - (MA-SC)

Location: Superior Cymba Concha where is meets the wall of the inferior Crus of the antihelix

Functions: Supplement kidney and boost essence; strengthen

lumbus and invigorate bones.

Indications: Disorders of urinary and reproductive systems such

as nephritis, cystitis, impotence, seminal emission; dysmenor-

rhea, amenorrhea; deafness, tinnitus, retardation of hearing,

loss of hair; disorders of the nervous system such as poor

development of the brain, headache, spinal retrograde degenera-

tion, pain in lumbus, rheumatoid arthritis, chronic diarrhea,

frequent urination at night, bedwetting.


Location: Hidden from view, at the junction of the Inferior Crus of the Antihelix and the Helix

Functions: Regulates functions of the sympathetic and parasympathetic nerves, relaxes spasm of the smooth muscle and relieves pain. Improves blood circulation and soothes irregular or rapid heartbeats.

Location: In the tip of the triangular fossa, but slightly superior

Functions: Calms mind. Connects with Spirit. Relieves spasm, pain, inflammation and itching. Reduces fever and coughs. Eases tension, anxiety and depression. Also helps insomnia, dreeam disturbed sleep and hypertension.

Liver - (MA-SC5)

Location: Posterior portion of the lower aspect of the superior

concha, anterior to Chest (MA-AH11) and superior to Spleen


Functions: Course the liver and rectify qû; brighten the eyes and

extinguish wind.

Indications: Acute or chronic hepatitis, cholecystitis, cholelithi-

asis, distention and pain in the upper abdomen, belching, acid

regurgitation; dizziness, convulsion, hemiparesis; myopia, sty,

and acute conjunctivitis.


Functions: For palpitations, strengthens heart.



Bullock, M. L., Umen, A. J., Culliton, P. D. and Olander,R.T. (1987) Acupuncture treatment of alcoholic recidivism: a pilot study. Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research  11, 292–295

Bullock M. L., Kiresuk T. J., Sherman R. E., et al. A large randomized placebo controlled study of auricular acupuncture for alcohol dependence. Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment. 2002;22(2):71–77. doi: 10.1016/S0740-5472(01)00217-3. [PubMed] [Cross Ref]

Karst M, Passie T, Freidrich S, Wiese B, Schneider U. (2002) Acupuncture in the treatment of alcohol withdrawal symptoms: a randomized, placebo-controlled inpatient study. Addict Biol 2002 Oct;7(4):415-9.

Lee KM, Coehlo M, McGregor HA, Waltermire RS, Szumlinski KK (2015) Binge alcohol drinking elicits persistent negative affect in mice. Behav Brain Res 291:385–398. CrossRef Medline


Acupuncture and low back pain

Low Back Pain

Low Back Pain

Do you suffer from back pain? Well you are not alone. Back pain is a common problem that affects most people at some point in their life. According to a 1994 study found in the New England Journal of Medicine, 31 million Americans are experiencing back pain at any given time. Low back pain is the single leading cause of disability world wide. The NHS lists a number of causes of back pain:

  • bending awkwardly or for long periods
  • lifting, carrying, pushing or pulling heavy objects
  • slouching in chairs
  • twisting awkwardly
  • overstretching
  • driving or sitting in a hunched position or for long periods without taking a break
  • overusing the muscles – for example, during sport or repetitive movements

A recent study published in the British Medical Journal concludes that paracetamol is no better than placebo for low back pain ( The NHS recommends acupuncture for long term back pain and states that it has been shown to help reduce lower back pain. It also recommends exercise classes. Pilates is a good choice of exercise for this condition since it gentle and encourages spine flexibility. The NHS also recommends manual therapies such as massage for back pain. I offer Chinese, Sports and Thai massage. I have found that a combination of massage and acupuncture is particularly effective in the treatment of back pain. This treatment technique works quickly and brings relief to the majority of patients within 24 hours. Several follow ups may be necessary depending on the severity of the pain and if it is more chronic or acute in nature.

The Fire Element in Chinese Medicine



There are five elements in Chinese Medicine: Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal and Water. Five element acupuncturists use this system to determine which element in a person requires most support. Working on that element helps to bring balance to the person. The Fire Element in Chinese Medicine relates to Summer, to heat, to the colour red, to laughing and to joy. The Sun is the Fire Element in nature. The following meridians are all related to the Fire Element: Heart, Small Intestine, Pericardium and Triple Burner.  The Spirit of the Heart is called the Shen. The Shen can be seen in the sparkle in a persons eyes.

On a physical level the Fire Element relates to a persons sensitivity to hot and cold. On an emotional level it relates to joy. Communication with others is how it manifests. When the Fire Element is in balance we can communicate freely and effectively with others. We will laugh and smile at appropriate moments. We will be able to recall pleasurable moments. When Fire is in excess we may become over exuberant,we may laugh at inappropriate moments.  Manic behaviour can harm the Fire Element. When the Fire Element is deficient we may be discouraged from human contact. We may not be able to join in the joy of a group and may feel isolated. When Fire is deficient people may display joy but it will lack warmth and not feel genuine. Lack of human contact can be detrimental to the Fire Element.


Hicks, Hicks and Mole, 2004, Five Element Constitutional Acupuncture, Churchill Livingstone


Blencathra in Winter

Blencathra in Winter


In Chinese Medicine Winter is the season relating to the Water element and the Kidneys. Winter is the time of year where everything slows down. Water freezes and becomes ice. The stillness of ice represents this season. Animals hibernate and seeds lay dormant.  In Winter we are advised to go to bed early and slow down our activity to preserve our resources.

Chinese Character for Water

Chinese Character for Water


In terms of diet Winter is a good time for salty and bitter foods which aid the bodies capacity for storage. Examples of bitter foods are oats, rye, carrot top and quinoa. Seaweed, millet and barley are salty foods. It is advisable to avoid salads at this time of year as they are cooling in nature.


Hicks, Hicks and Mole, 2004, Five Element Constitutional Acupuncture, Churchill Livingstone