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Acupuncture & Chinese Herbs for Insomnia?

Acupuncture & Chinese Herbs for Insomnia?Acupuncture is often touted as a “cure-all” for anything and everything. People seem to either think that acupuncture is an amazing alternative medicine or it is a placebo sham.

I first decided to try it in 2010 to see if it would be able to help ease my lifelong sleeping issues.

Usually I put a lot of thought into the medical providers I work with. In this case, I did not do any research into which practitioner I wanted to use; I simply chose the acupuncturist located one block from my house. It was certainly convenient, and seemed like a good idea at the time.

I recall those sessions as being strange. In addition to needles being placed all over my body, my sessions also involved smoke and fire. Sometimes, an herb would be placed on top of the acupuncture needles, then set on fire. Smoke was used in a procedure called “cupping” where glass jars were suctioned all over my back.

Craniosacral therapy was also used on me. My acupuncturist would rub two bones on the back of my skull at a very specific point. All of this was supposed to make me sleep. When pressed as to how this would all work, my acupuncturist would sometimes use the word “magic.” Magic? Really?

I went to these sessions four times, as I was told this was how many visits were needed to assess if my treatment was working. I saw no difference after four visits and stopped going. My western mind told me the process was all a bit much for me. If I felt the magic was working, I could have gotten over it, but I saw no progress. Plus, acupuncture is not covered by health insurance and my visits were getting expensive.

A few months ago, I started to feel my inability to sleep was at a point where it was greatly affecting my life. I have a variety of sleeping pill prescriptions, but nothing seemed to be helping me as much as I hoped. I was starting to feel desperate and out of control. This is when I thought again of acupuncture.

I wondered if a different practitioner might be able to help me more than the first one had. I did a good amount of online research and settled on someone. I’ll admit, aside from good online reviews, part of the appeal of this new provider was that everyone in the office was from China. I thought that a practitioner of Chinese medicine who was actually from China may have different viewpoints and use an alternative approach. This supposition was really based on nothing, but it made sense to me at the time.

When I called to make an appointment, the person on the phone did not ask me any questions or tell me what to expect. She simply wanted to know when I would come to the office. When I went to the office at that specified time. I found a dark hallway and a locked door. When I called the office’s phone number, I could hear the phone ringing on the other side of the door. No one answered; no one was at the office. I had been stood up.

I soon received a call explaining there had been a scheduling error. I understand that these things happen, but decided not to make another appointment. I had a bad first impression of that acupuncturist’s office and did not want to move forward with them.

This led to more Internet research. I settled on a group of acupuncturists not far from my house. When I called to inquire, the person who answered the phone asked me a great number of questions about why I wanted to come and what my symptoms are. This made me feel comfortable.

I filled out a lot of paperwork before the first visit. The paperwork contained very personal questions about my body and health, with some of the questions being highly detailed. I answered to the best of my ability.

At my first appointment, I handed in my paperwork to the acupuncturist and we talked for a long time. She wanted to know more about my patterns of insomnia and anything else that was wrong with my well-being. We settled on insomnia as my primary issue, but also addressed headaches, nausea, and neck pain.

This acupuncturist did not use smoke, fire, or magic. She simply asked me to remove my shirt and lie face down on a table. She then placed needles all over my neck, shoulders, back, and calves. I lay like that for around 20 minutes, then the needles were removed. I replaced my shirt, then turned onto my back. The acupuncturist then placed needles in my forehead, arms, wrists, and legs.

The next two sessions proceeded much like the first, but with less interviewing. Each time I would go, we would check in on my sleep and other ailments, then I would lie still while needles were placed in various areas of my body. The needles would sometimes feel uncomfortable, but the sessions were, overall, relaxing.

At my third visit, I was given my assessment. I was informed I had imbalances in the Chinese medical organ systems of spleen/stomach, heart/small intestine, and liver/gall bladder. I was also told my blood needed additional nourishment. I did not understand what this meant, but went along with it.

To help my treatment of these problems, I was given a prescription of Chinese herbs. I was prescribed the herb blend of Suan Zao Ren Tang. This came in a powder and I was instructed to mix five scoops of granules with a cup of water. I was told to take it at night, two hours after eating dinner. It seemed imperative that I take the herbs on an empty stomach and with no other medicine.

The herb drink did not taste good, but it wasn’t terrible. The flavor reminded me of celery. I began drinking my prescribed dose every night.

When I started taking the Suan Zao Ren Tang, I began to feel like I was falling asleep with more ease and had less frequent headaches. I began feeling positive about the acupuncture treatments and my herbs. I felt like it was all working.

My acupuncturist soon added another herb blend to my routine. I started taking Si Wu Tang in the morning. This one came in pill form and I took seven of them as soon as I woke up. I found swallowing seven pills immediately upon waking to be strange.

This was followed by a bad couple weeks of sleep and I became discouraged. During that time period, I had an acupuncture treatment that did not seem to help. I couldn’t help but associate the downward turn with the addition of the Si Wu Tang pills. When the bottle ran out, I did not buy more.

I started to feel more negative about my acupuncture treatments. For the price I was paying, I wanted to be sure it was doing something. At my next session, I asked the acupuncturist what I could reasonably expect from the treatments. She said she did not understand my question. I found this vaguely annoying — if a health-related service is being provided, I think it is fair that a client understands how long interventions will take and how to assess if they are working.

The acupuncturist reviewed my paperwork with me and pointed out the areas in which I was making progress. She had a point on some of the issues. I was then given the unsatisfying answer that treatment takes time and everyone responds differently. Because we were trying to fix the underlying cause of my insomnia rather than mask its symptoms, it would take an undetermined amount of time. I understood what the acupuncturist was saying, but would have preferred to assign a time and price assessment to my treatment. The costs of the treatments and the herbs were quickly adding up.

At that same visit, my Si Wu Tang was officially discontinued. It was replaced by something called Free and Easy Wander Plus. This was in a pill and I was instructed to take five of them when I woke up in the morning. I started taking these the next day.

I have now had eight acupuncture sessions and have purchased three more. I am still unsure as to if this is working. I seem to be sleeping a little bit better, but I don’t know if this is because of the acupuncture or other factors. When all my acupuncture sessions are done, I will have spent $800, plus the cost of the Chinese herbs. I would like to know if this money has helped me with my insomnia, but how can I tell for sure? This makes me feel highly frustrated. I had hoped my results would be more concrete.

People seem to have strong pro or con opinions about acupuncture. I am still somewhere in the middle. I’m desperate to have help with my sleeping issues, but am unwilling to pump endless money into a practice that may not be doing much for me. The experience has left me feeling both confused and hopeful, a strange combination to figure out as it continues to unfold.

Acupuncture & Chinese Herbs for Insomnia?

Tracey Silver

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APA Reference
Silver, T. (2018). Acupuncture & Chinese Herbs for Insomnia?. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 26, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Jul 2018 (Originally: 8 Apr 2013)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Jul 2018
Published on Psych All rights reserved.