top of page
  • Writer's pictureMarieke Pieterman, L.Ac.

Getting a great night’s sleep is within your grasp: Just try acupuncture

By Marieke A. Pieterman

Getting a great night’s sleep is within your grasp: Just try acupuncture
Getting a great night’s sleep is within your grasp: Just try acupuncture

The enormous health benefits of a great night’s sleep cannot be underestimated in today’s hectic world. It’s been well documented for years.

Studies have found that people who sleep well are less likely to get sick, remain at a healthy weight, have a reduced risk for diabetes and heart disease and have reduced stress in their lives. The list goes on and on.


Unlike a number of my clients, I’ve never had a problem getting a good night’s sleep. That said, it’s not lost on me when my clients come in struggling with the issue of insomnia.

Needless to day, they are so completely exhausted and frustrated by it all. Some have issues getting to sleep initially; others are able to fall asleep, but then are awoken between 1 AM and 3 AM. Others awake multiple times in the night and have difficulty falling back asleep each time, lying awake for an hour at a time, because they are ruminating over it again and again, all throughout the night.

Each of these various sleep patterns is diagnostic for me and will be treated differently with acupuncture. During the intake, I will ask lots of questions surrounding your sleep patterns so it is important to know the exact details of how your insomnia manifests within you.


Numerous studies have examined how acupuncture is an effective treatment for insomnia. For example, a study found acupuncture to be effective for insomnia by regulating hormone levels and alleviating insomnia that was being caused by menopause.

Another study demonstrated that it was more effective than estazolam (a benzodiazepine). However, in standard human clinical trials, the methodology to measure numerous aspects of sleep varies greatly from one study to the next.

In this article, I will focus on a study that uses an animal model of rats in an effort to find biomarkers that could be consistency measured during consistent times of the sleep measures.

At the Hunan University of Traditional Chinese Medicine, researchers have found acupuncture to be an effective treatment for insomnia, specifically sleep latency and duration. Sleep latency or sleep onset latency is the amount of time it takes for one to fall asleep after the lights have been turned off in the room. Furthermore, researchers identified important biological responses that acupuncture was able to elicit that affect sleep.


This insomnia research study found that acupuncture was able to regulate pathways responsible for providing “anti-insomnia” effects to the hypothalamus in these research rats.

The hypothalamus is a region of the forebrain that resides below (hypo) the thalamus, and coordinates both the autonomic nervous system (ANS) and the activity of the pituitary gland. In doing so, it controls body temperature, thirst, hunger, as well as the systems involved in sleep and emotional activity.

These researchers identified biochemical responses in the serotonin receptor family within the hypothalamus of insomnia-induced rats, when three acupuncture point prescriptions were applied to address the insomnia. In all three acupuncture cases, these biochemical responses increased levels of 5-HT 1a receptor mRNA, which can regulate REM sleep and REM latency, while decreasing levels of 5-HT 2a receptor mRNA which can trigger wakefulness.


Sixty rats were randomly divided into five groups, with 12 rats in each of the following groups: a control group, a model group, a Baihui plus Shenmen group, a Baihui plus Sanyinjiao group, and a Baihui plus non-acupuncture point (on the arm) group. Baihui (GV-20), Shenmen (He-7), and Sanyinjiao (Sp-6) are Chinese names for various acupuncture points that are indicated for insomnia.

The rats were injected with sodium barbital, a chemical that is typically used in laboratories in order to induce insomnia in animals. Within 36 hours of the injection, the rats began showing a number of symptoms of insomnia including loss of circadian rhythms, continuous activity throughout the day and night, hypersensitivity to light and sound and other external stimuli, and irritability.


The control group of rats received no intervention for their insomnia. The model group of rats was immobilized on their backs for 30 minutes, once a day, for seven consecutive days. The three acupuncture groups were needled bilaterally at the various acupuncture points (group name), with a 30-minute needle retention for seven consecutive days.


Researchers were able to gather quantitative data within the hypothalamus of the rats in order to record sleep latency and sleep duration. For this study, sleep was defined when the “righting reflex” had disappeared -- when the rat would no longer self-correct their body’s orientation (think falling asleep sitting up on an airplane and your head jerking up and down numerous times, as you try and fall asleep). When the “righting reflex” had returned, it was determined the rat was awake.

Sleep latency was defined as the time between the injection of the sodium barbital and when the “righting reflex” had disappeared.

Sleep duration was defined as the time between the disappearance of the “righting reflex” in the rat and the rat’s awakening.


The Baihui (GV-20) plus Shenmen (He-7) group had significantly increased 5-HT 1a receptor mRNA (sleep) and significantly decreased levels of 5-HT 2a receptor mRNA (wake) when compared to the model group and had consistent findings with the ‘righting reflex” as well.

Among the three acupuncture treatment groups, in both the Baihui (GV-20) plus Sanyinjiao (Sp-6) group, and a Baihui (GV-20) plus non-acupuncture point (on the arm) group, there was a significant decrease in 5-HT 1a receptor mRNA (sleep), and no significant difference in 5-HT 2a receptor mRNA (wake) when compared to the Baihui (GV-20) plus Shenmen (He-7) group. Compared to the model group, all three acupuncture groups had improved sleep latency.

On the other hand, the model group had significantly decreased 5-HT 1a receptor mRNA (sleep) and significantly increased levels of 5-HT 2a receptor mRNA (wake) when compared to the control group.

Among the three acupuncture treatment groups, the Baihui (GV-20) plus Shenmen (He-7) group had significant results as the longest sleep duration group. The model group had the shorter sleep duration when compared to the control group.


Are you tired of being tired all the time because your nights are plagued with insomnia? Ready to start waking up rejuvenated? If so, schedule your appointment with Holistic Heart Acupuncture for your insomnia acupuncture treatment today!

Acupuncture Benefits Sleep In Lab And Clinical Trials



Commenting has been turned off.
bottom of page