Acupuncture for Insomnia

Many people suffer from insomnia at some time in their life.  It should be distinguished from disorders such as sleep apnoea, where the individual’s sleep is disturbed rather than broken by wakefulness.  Sufferers of insomnia may also complain of headaches, dizziness, chronic fatigue, emotional variability and general malaise.  The condition may arise during a particularly stressful and worrying time, and be alleviated when conditions change.  Alternatively, it may be present for many years, with some people complaining of poor sleep from childhood.

Chronic insomnia may be defined as difficulty in sleeping three nights a week (or more) for a period of at least one month.  It may arise from an underlying health condition such as arthritis, or be due to poor sleep routines (such as working shift patterns), chronic stress,  smoking and/or drinking late at night, excessive napping during the day or even worrying about being able to sleep.  Older people normally need less sleep than younger people.

Insomnia and TCM

In TCM, the various patterns of insomnia are examined separately.  For example, some people complain of difficulty in getting to sleep, but are able to remain asleep once they have dropped off.  More commonly, people wake in the night, sometimes to go to the toilet but sometimes for no apparent reason.  Where people wake, it is important to determine whether or not they remain wakeful over a long period, or go straight back to sleep.  The time of waking also has a bearing on the diagnosis, since it may indicate a particular problem with a part of the body’s system.

In Chinese medicine, the amount and quality of the sleep depend upon the state of the Mind, known as Shen.  If the Mind is properly rooted, sleep will be sound.  If, however, there is underlying weakness or imbalance in the constitution, sleep will be affected.  There is always an inter-relationship between the body and Mind:  if there is a physical imbalance the Mind may be affected, and if the Mind is agitated by emotional stress the body will respond.

The cuses of insomnia in TCM are worry, anger, overwork, constitutional timidity, irregular or poor diet, loss of blood, post viral heat and excessive sexual activity, to mention a few.

Each patient’s insomnia is individually assessed and a unique diagnosis given before a course of treatment is proposed.

Is Acupuncture Helpful in the treatment of Insomnia?

Much of the research into the treatment of insomnia with acupuncture has been done in Chinese universities; this research has shown that acupuncture can successfully be used to treat this condition.

1Sok et al (2003) reviewed a number of small scale studies which indicated a positive outcome for insomnia when treated with TCM.  2Spence et al (2004) found that acupuncture could help reduce the feelings of anxiety that caused insomnia reflecting clinical reports of the relaxant effects of acupuncture.  Auricular acupuncture (where the ear is needled rather than the body) has also proved effective (Chen et al , 2007).

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1Sok, SR., Erlen, JA., Kim, KB., (2003) Effects of acupuncture therapy on insomnia Journal of Advanced Nursing, Vol 44 No 4 pp 375-384.

2Spence, WD., Kayumov, L, Chen, A, Lowe, A,  Jain, U, Katzman, MA, Shen, J, Perelman, B, Shapiro, CM (2004) Acupuncture increases nocturnal melatonin secretion and reduces Insomnia and Anxiety: A Preliminary Report Journal of Neuropsychiatry and Clinical Neuroscience No 16 pp 19-28.


The Sean Barkes Clinic does not claim to cure any conventional medical disease states.  Traditional Chinese Medicine seeks to re-establish and maintain the harmonious function of the human body-mind using tried and tested principles that have been discovered and matured over millennia.  A Western medical diagnosis provides very little by way of insight in informing a Chinese Medical diagnosis.  Patients usually recognise their own condition in terms of the medical disease category that they have been given by their GP or other conventional medical practitioner.  The research presented here is merely an indication of the potential to draw parallels between Traditional Chinese Medicine and Modern Western Medicine.