Sleep Disturbances

What are Sleep Disturbances?

Sleep disturbances encompass disorders of initiating and maintaining adequate restful sleep. Sleep problems may include insomnia, sleep apnea, snoring, sleep deprivation, restless leg syndrome, and sleepwalking. Sleep problems may be a symptom of an underlying physical or mental condition, or may be a result of stress and lifestyle.

Insomnia is the acute or chronic inability to initiate or maintain appropriate nighttime sleep, and is characterized by difficulty falling asleep, awakening during the night, and/or persistent fatigue despite adequate sleep. Sleep apnea is characterized by interrupted or obstructed breathing during nighttime sleep.

Adequate levels of nighttime sleep are imperative for optimal physical and mental health, and can affect hormone levels and overall mood.



Acupuncture is a successful treatment option for many types of sleep disorders.

In the treatment of sleep apnea, acupuncture/acupressure stimulates the muscles of the upper respiratory tract airways that become obstructed during a sleep apnea episode. Further, auriculotherapy acupoint pressure may be used and can be extremely beneficial in the treatment of sleep apnea.

In the treatment of insomnia, acupuncture helps by increasing the amount of various neurotransmitters in the brain that promote relaxation and sleep. Auricular acupuncture and acupressure, too, can help enhance sleep quality.

Although an acupuncture prescription for sleeplessness may be used, point prescriptions may be useful for commonly used traditional points for sleeplessness.

Chinese Herbal Medicine

A combination of acupuncture and Chinese Herbal Medicine formulas makes the most effective pairing for treatment of sleep disorders. Many Chinese Herbal formulas exist that aid in regulating sleep levels, and although formulas are made based on the individual patients symptoms, common herbs in the treatment of sleep disturbances include Suan Zao Ren (Sour Date Seed), Bai Zi Ren (Arborvitae Seed), Fu Shen (Poria Paradicis), and Wu Wei Zi (Schizandra Fruit).

Nutrition and Diet

Nutrition and diet enormously impact an individual’s ability to receive adequate quality sleep. Deficiency or inadequate intake of certain nutrients and proteins essential for the production of sleep-related neurotransmitters can negatively affect sleep on an acute or chronic scale. Ensuring a well-balanced diet is critical in effectively treating sleep disturbances. Avoid caffeine, alcohol, and foods heavy in refined sugar entirely, but especially before bed. Make sure to include foods rich in essential fatty-acids, magnesium, and potassium in your everyday diet.

Lifestyle and Mind-Body Medicine

Healthy lifestyle and sleep habits are critical for treating any sleep disturbance.

Healthy Sleep Habits:

  • Consistent bed and wake times
  • Reserve the bedroom, especially the bed, exclusively for sleeping and sexual activities
  • Avoid naps
  • Keep the bedroom well ventilated and at comfortable temperature
  • Avoid bright clocks in the bedroom
  • Avoid eating, drinking, exercising, television, or any stimulating activity before bedtime
  • Mind-Body Medicine Techniques
  • Sleep Diary and Dream Journal
  • Relaxation and Meditative Techniques
  • Sleep Restriction
  • Stimulus Control: only using the bedroom for sleep and sexual activities
  • Cognitive Behavioural Therapy

Publications of Interest

  • Sjoling M et al, Auricular acupuncture versus sham acupuncture in the treatment of women who have insomnia.  J Altern Complement Med, 14; 2008.
  • Wang XY, Yuan SH, Yang HY, Sun YM, Cheng FP, Zhang CL, Huang XC. Abdominal acupuncture for insomnia in women: a randomized controlled clinical trial. Acupunct Electrother Res. 2008;33(1-2):33-41.
  • Cerrone R, Giani L, Galbiati B, Messina G, Casiraghi M, Proserpio E, Meregalli M, Trabattoni P, Lissoni P, Gardani G. Efficacy of HT 7 point acupressure stimulation in the treatment of insomnia in cancer patients and in patients suffering from disorders other than cancer. Minerva Med. 2008 Dec;99(6):535-7.
  • Cheuk DK, Yeung WF, Chung KF, Wong V. Acupuncture for insomnia. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2007 Jul 18;(3):CD005472.
  • Sjöling M, Rolleri M, Englund E.  Auricular acupuncture versus sham acupuncture in the treatment of women who have insomnia. J Altern Complement Med. 2008 Jan-Feb;14(1):39-46
  • Cheuk DK, Yeung WF, Chung KF, Wong V. Acupuncture for insomnia. 5. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2007 Jul 18;(3):CD005472.
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