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Unlocking Better Sleep: The Role of Acupuncture for Insomnia


Can acupuncture treatment help individuals dealing with or experiencing insomnia and sleep issues and/or disorders?

Unlocking Better Sleep: The Role of Acupuncture for Insomnia

Acupuncture For Insomnia

Acupuncture is a type of holistic medicine that involves inserting sterile, disposable, thin needles at specific points known as acupoints on the body. Each needle is inserted into a different area to stimulate symptom relief of various conditions, like chronic pain and nausea. (Johns Hopkins Medicine. 2024) Recent research has looked into acupuncture for insomnia and found that it may be an effective alternative. (Mingming Zhang et al., 2019)


Insomnia causes individuals to have trouble falling or staying asleep. Individuals who have insomnia tend to wake up earlier than they intend to and find it difficult to impossible to get back to sleep once they are awake. The sleep disorder is quite common, with around 10% of individuals experiencing it at some point. (Andrew D. Krystal et al., 2019)

There are three categories, all characterized by the duration of the disorder. They include: (Andrew D. Krystal et al., 2019)


  • Lasting less than three months.


  • Happens once in a while for less than three months.


  • Lasting more than three months.

Health Issues

  • Insomnia can cause various health issues, and individuals can develop mood changes, irritability, fatigue, and problems with memory, impulse control, and concentration. (Andrew D. Krystal et al., 2019)
  • Insomnia has also been shown to increase the risk of heart failure, heart attack, and other chronic health conditions. (Mingming Zhang et al., 2019)


Studies on the use of acupuncture for insomnia have found that it may improve sleep because of its influence on certain neurotransmitters. One review noted that specific neurotransmitters involved in the sleep-wake cycle are positively affected by acupuncture. (Kaicun Zhao 2013) The neurotransmitters include:


  • Helps with waking up and staying alert.


  • A hormone that helps the body calm down and prepare for sleep.

Gamma-aminobutyric acid – GABA

  • Helps the body fall asleep and stay asleep.

However, more research is needed to confirm the benefits of acupuncture for insomnia further.


Certain conditions can contribute to insomnia, including:

  • Mood disorders
  • Chronic pain
  • Other sleep disorders

Acupuncture can help lower the effects of these disorders.


Because of the way acupuncture affects certain chemicals, it is a proven complementary treatment for pain.

  • The needles enhance chemicals like endorphins, dynorphins, and encephalins.
  • Acupuncture also releases corticosteroids, which are stress hormones.
  • Each of these chemicals has a role in pain symptoms.
  • Adjusting their levels helps reduce pain. (Shilpadevi Patil et al., 2016)


  • Studies have found that individuals with anxiety can also benefit from acupuncture to help reduce symptoms. (Meixuan Li et al., 2019)

Sleep Apnea

  • Sleep apnea is a sleep-breathing disorder that causes an individual to stop breathing during the night temporarily.
  • The muscles in the nasal cavity, nose, mouth, or throat become overly relaxed.
  • Acupuncture can help stimulate the muscles and prevent over-relaxation, preventing apneas.
  • Data suggests that acupuncture may affect the apnea-hypopnea index, the number of times an individual stops and starts breathing during sleep. (Liaoyao Wang et al., 2020)


  • Individuals should not feel pain and just a small amount of pressure in the needles’ insertion area.
  • If pain is present, it could be because the needles are not inserted in the right spot.
  • It’s essential to tell the acupuncturist so they can reset and re-insert them correctly. (Malcolm W. C. Chan et al., 2017)

Side Effects

Side effects are rare but can occur. These include: (G. Ernst, H. Strzyz, H. Hagmeister 2003)

  • Dizziness
  • Bleeding or bruising where the needle was inserted.
  • Nausea
  • Fainting
  • Pins and needles sensation
  • Feeling more pain  treatment

Prior to getting acupuncture, individuals are recommended to speak to their healthcare provider. They can advise on how it can help and any side effects that may occur due to the individual’s health, underlying conditions, and medical history. Once cleared, they can recommend a licensed acupuncturist.

Tension Headaches


Johns Hopkins Medicine. (2024). Acupuncture (Health, Issue. www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/wellness-and-prevention/acupuncture

Zhang, M., Zhao, J., Li, X., Chen, X., Xie, J., Meng, L., & Gao, X. (2019). Effectiveness and safety of acupuncture for insomnia: Protocol for a systematic review. Medicine, 98(45), e17842. doi.org/10.1097/MD.0000000000017842

Krystal, A. D., Prather, A. A., & Ashbrook, L. H. (2019). The assessment and management of insomnia: an update. World psychiatry: official journal of the World Psychiatric Association (WPA), 18(3), 337–352. doi.org/10.1002/wps.20674

Zhao K. (2013). Acupuncture for the treatment of insomnia. International review of neurobiology, 111, 217–234. doi.org/10.1016/B978-0-12-411545-3.00011-0

Patil, S., Sen, S., Bral, M., Reddy, S., Bradley, K. K., Cornett, E. M., Fox, C. J., & Kaye, A. D. (2016). The Role of Acupuncture in Pain Management. Current pain and headache reports, 20(4), 22. doi.org/10.1007/s11916-016-0552-1

Li, M., Xing, X., Yao, L., Li, X., He, W., Wang, M., Li, H., Wang, X., Xun, Y., Yan, P., Lu, Z., Zhou, B., Yang, X., & Yang, K. (2019). Acupuncture for treatment of anxiety, an overview of systematic reviews. Complementary therapies in medicine, 43, 247–252. doi.org/10.1016/j.ctim.2019.02.013

Wang, L., Xu, J., Zhan, Y., & Pei, J. (2020). Acupuncture for Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA) in Adults: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. BioMed research international, 2020, 6972327. doi.org/10.1155/2020/6972327

Chan, M. W. C., Wu, X. Y., Wu, J. C. Y., Wong, S. Y. S., & Chung, V. C. H. (2017). Safety of Acupuncture: Overview of Systematic Reviews. Scientific reports, 7(1), 3369. doi.org/10.1038/s41598-017-03272-0

Ernst, G., Strzyz, H., & Hagmeister, H. (2003). Incidence of adverse effects during acupuncture therapy-a multicentre survey. Complementary therapies in medicine, 11(2), 93–97. doi.org/10.1016/s0965-2299(03)00004-9

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The information herein on "Unlocking Better Sleep: The Role of Acupuncture for Insomnia" is not intended to replace a one-on-one relationship with a qualified health care professional or licensed physician and is not medical advice. We encourage you to make healthcare decisions based on your research and partnership with a qualified healthcare professional.

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Dr. Alex Jimenez DC, MSACP, RN*, CCST, IFMCP*, CIFM*, ATN*

email: coach@elpasofunctionalmedicine.com

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Dr. Alex Jimenez DC, MSACP, RN* CIFM*, IFMCP*, ATN*, CCST
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