Alternatives || Guest Post: Acupuncture can relieve insomnia and, possibly, more [Dr. Dave Shirazi] recently chatted with sleep technologist and acupuncturist Dr. Dave Shirazi (DDS MS MA LAc RPSGT) about the value of acupuncture therapy for treating certain kinds of sleep health issues.


SHC: What sleep issues might benefit from a visit to the acupuncturist?

DS: Predominantly, the three types of insomnia: primary, secondary and tertiary. Others, such as night terrors and REM behavior disorder (RBD) are spoken of in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), but I am not aware of any research on them. Possibly in China’s database? As for obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), you can use acupuncture to lose weight and possibly even increase muscle tone in the upper pharyngeal muscles through electro acupuncture.

SHC:  How does acupuncture work (in a nutshell)?

DS:  There are many theories from the Western side: nerve stimulation, endorphin release, connective tissue matrix theory. A couple of fMRI studies have also been done to show ‘explanation’ at the CNS level with acupuncture. The Eastern explanation is that of the movement and quality of Qi (pronounced ‘chi’). Qi is the energy that drives all our cells into function, and it is interconnected throughout the entire body, like an electrical grid, through channels called meridians.

SHC:  What takes place during acupuncture that helps with treating sleep disorders?

DS:  As with anything, it has to do with what the problem actually is. If the issue is overthinking at bedtime, then a specific protocol(s) would be used to release the anxiety of overthinking. If it’s waking up at a specific time every night, there are specific protocols just for that. Each two-hour block of time in a day is associated with a meridian.

SHC: Are there any links to clinical evidence or recent studies on the efficacy of acupuncture as a sleep health therapy that you’d like to share?

DS:  Wen, Xiuyun, Qian Wu, Jingshu Du, and Wenbin Fu. “Effect of compatibility of Lie Que (LU7) and Zhao Hai (KI6) on insomnia caused by depression: a randomized controlled trial.” Biomedical Engineering and Environmental Engineering 145 (2014): 227. [Curator’s note: You can access the interpretation of this study at Acupuncture Beats Drug For Sleep.] 

DS:  You can also read the studies from PubMed by searching acupuncture + sleep. [Curator’s note: 
PubMed catalogs more than 23 million citations for biomedical literature from various legitimate sources, which include citations that sometimes offer links to free abstracts or some full-text content in free PDF form for general reader access.]

SHC:  How does one go about finding an acupuncturist who is qualified to handle sleep disorders?

DS:  You want to first find one that is State Board licensed, that was properly trained at an accredited TCM school (with a Masters Degree), and you want to ask specific questions like “what do you treat predominantly?” Like internal medicine, acupuncture can be used for everything, and you want to go to someone that has everyday training with sleep disorders. We don’t have ‘specialties’ from a legal standpoint in TCM, but there are many who limit their practices to specific disorders like pain, gynecology, infertility, etc. If the top three or four answers from local acupuncturists aren’t sleep disorders, you may need to ask around.

SHC:  Can relief for sleep health issues be resolved in just one visit to the acupuncturist or will these patients need to make repeat visits?

DS:  As always, the answer is ‘it depends.’ For very acute issues, often one treatment alone is enough. For more chronic issues, one would need 10 or more visits. Though not as convenient as taking a pill, acupuncture is also more efficacious and with little to no side effects (see article cited).

SHC:  Does insurance cover acupuncture therapy?

DS: Most of the time, yes. Please check with your immediate provider. They will tell you,

SHC:  What about acupressure? Is this therapy comparable to acupuncture for the treatment of sleep disorders?

DS: There are some small studies linking ear acupressure for sleep disorders, but in my own personal experience that would rely on the condition being more acute.

SHC:  What else would you like to share about using acupuncture as a therapy for treating sleep health disorders?

DS: I truly believe that milder conditions are the true home of acupuncture and that emergency situations are at the home of Western allopathic medicine. The efficacy of acupuncture for nearly all issues is clearly documented and well researched. I would go to an acupuncturist to treat most things myself; however, if I had a car accident, or heart attack or stroke, I would first want to go to the hospital.

When I did one of my residencies in Korea’s Kyung Hee Medical Hospital, all their doctors were dual degreed western MD’s and PhD’s in TCM. They would alternate treatment from surgery to acupuncture to drugs to herbs. They were totally integrated and had astounding success rates. We would all do well to mimic that.


Dr. Dave Shirazi,

For more information about Dr. Shirazi and ways to contact or follow him: (@DocDavidShirazi)
Facebook profile
Youtube videos (patient success stories)

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SleepyHeadCENTRAL strongly encourages people with ongoing sleep health problems to approach a medical professional to determine appropriate differential diagnoses and treatment. This post, like all other posts on SHC, is not intended to substitute for medical advice.  


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