Acupuncture & Complementary Medicine for Insomnia
Acupuncture has been one the most popular Eastern medicine strategies used throughout history. More recently, its effects on various conditions (including insomnia), have been evaluated using Western scientific methods.
A review study in 2007 compiled evidence from various studies that compared auricular (ear) acupuncture (AA) to either placebo, sham acupuncture (i.e., acupuncture methods placed on “non-active” body points), Western medication, or no treatment. Their results found greater rates of recovery and improvement using active auricular acupuncture (ear acupuncture) compared to a benzodiazepine medication, especially for enhancing sleep up to 6 hours. Ear seeds seem to be more-effective than magnetic pearls placed on the ears.
Importantly, acupuncture was the most often preferred and best-tolerated treatment by patients in these studies. A review of needle acupuncture and herbal medicine studies published up to 2008 found similar effects. In short, there were more overall sleep benefits from acupuncture compared no treatment at all, as well as for acupressure over sham acupressure.
Additionally, among those individuals who benefited the most (i.e., those who experienced >3 hrs of sleep improvement), acupuncture proved superior to medications. However, there was no difference between the two when researchers averaged all participants’ sleep time. This suggests that acupuncture may work especially well in some individuals with insomnia, and though the reason is unclear, this might be a better frontline treatment for them than medications given the lack of associated risks.
More research is needed to make firm conclusions on the effectiveness of auricular and other forms of acupuncture for insomnia, as there is room for improvement in the methodological quality of existing studies.