Acupuncture and Your Sleep

Acupuncture is an ancient Chinese healing art that is based on the insertion of long, thin needles under the skin at specific points along the surface of the body. It is based on the idea that the life force, or qi, needs to flow with ease and harmony throughout the body. The needles are meant to regulate the flow of vital energy by unblocking it along crucial pathways, or meridians. Once this energy is flowing properly, the body is better able to return to the state of balance necessary for all aspects of health, including restorative sleep.

Despite the squirm factor, many people cite enormous benefits from acupuncture, sometimes in situations where Western medicine has been unable to help. If you have trouble sleeping and good sleep hygiene isn't doing the trick, acupuncture is worth trying. It's also a good alternative to sleeping pills, which can have side effects and prove habit-forming. There are even some studies that suggest that acupuncture might be more effective than prescription sleeping aids. Acupuncture is increasingly covered by many health plans in America, and can sometimes even by provided by Western M.D.s.

You may be still skeptical, but you don't have to believe in acupuncture in order for it to work. Acupuncture needles are also generally thinner than the needles used for injections, so it's usually possible for people who "hate needles" to bear it. Most patients feel minimal pain as the needles enter the skin, and then nothing once the needles are in. As all things Eastern, like yoga and meditation, become more and more popular in the States, acupuncture has been used to treat a wider and wider variety of ills, everything from infertility in women to doggie arthritis. Curing insomnia seems like the least miraculous of the claims made for this healing art.

Traditional Chinese medicine uses a whole-body approach. Like your regular doctor, an acupuncturist will usually want to help you determine root causes for your insomnia. He or she will take a full medical history, looking at emotional conditions as well as exercise habits, asking about everything from your family situation to if-and-when you eat Pop Tarts. He may even ask you what time you tend to wake up. Qi is supposed to flow through different parts of the body at different times. If you always wake up between one and three AM, that's a time when energy is usually flowing through your liver, and an acupuncturist might ask you about your drinking habits. Fatty foods and stress might also have an acupuncturist paying special attention to your liver system, which in acupuncture is not just an organ but a series of meridians connecting to your liver. Late-night eating, on the other hand, might direct her to your spleen system.

Much of the advice from Eastern-oriented practitioners may overlap with Western ideas about good sleep habits, for example, East and West both preach exercise in the early part of the day but not in the evening, and suggest that you avoid spicy foods or high-sugar snacks late at night. Your Chinese healer will probably try to get you to stop drinking caffeine just like your doctor, but she may also prescribe a regimen of needles as well as cupping, massage, or herbal remedies. The herbal remedies sometimes seem strange or implausible to the Western palate, but the massage is usually a welcome addition to any treatment regime and Chinese healers often have cheaper rates than fancy Western spas!

If you're ready to test the waters of unblocked qi, the American Academy of Medical Acupuncture can help you find an acupuncturist near you, as can the American Association of Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine. Your health care provider might also have acupuncture specialists in their list of covered providers.

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