How to use acupuncture for sleep and restlessness

meIf being stuck with needles is your worst nightmare, you’re not alone, but here’s a plot twist you might not have expected: Using acupuncture for sleep can actually offer super-relaxing benefits that lead to dreamy nights, and even to a nap in the middle of the night. acupuncture session. If you’re thinking “hey, napping when you’re a human pincushion doesn’t sound very relaxing,” I get it. But according to Eva Zeller, LAc, a licensed acupuncturist who co-directs Philadelphia-based Acupuncture Off Broad, acupuncture for sleep and naps is actually a common application of Traditional Chinese Medicine practice.

And it’s nothing new: acupuncture has been around for thousands of years, long before it came to wellness spas. In traditional Chinese medicine, your qi is the current of energy that flows through your body through energetic pathways called meridians. Acupressure points are stations or entry points that fall along your meridians. The idea is that if the energy is out of balance, it can lead to certain problems or ailments. So these pressure points are what acupuncturists work with, and one possible application is acupuncture for sleep.

How? Well, for one thing, the atmosphere is relaxing, whether you’re taking part in a private session or visiting a community acupuncture studio. The temperature is generally warm, the lights are dim, and the music is relaxing. Hello, dreamland!

But the treatment itself is also part of what delivers those sleep-inducing effects. “We choose specific acupuncture points that allow your body to heal and self-regulate,” says Noah Rubinstein, DACM, a doctor of Chinese medicine and clinical director of the Yinova Center in New York City. Once the body settles into its balanced state, deep relaxation (yes, sometimes to the point of falling asleep) is almost inevitable.

What to expect from an acupuncture session for sleep

Before you lie down on the mat, your doctor assesses whether the problem at hand is falling asleep or staying asleep (or both) and may ask you about other factors, such as diet, medications, pain and stress, and the role I could have each. playing in your life From there, the doctor will create a personalized treatment plan that emphasizes balance, so clients have plenty of energy when they’re awake, but can cut back when it’s time for bed, says Rubenstein.

During the session, a licensed acupuncturist will stick needles into pressure points that correlate to what ails you. Each of these points is connected to specific strengths and effects that can be activated through stimulation, such as relieving anxiety or jaw tension. And if you’re squeamish about syringes, rest assured acupuncture doesn’t hurt: The needles work similar to a massage by relaxing tense muscles and producing collagen.

“Acupuncture helps turn off all the alarm bells for a moment, which reminds your mind and body, ‘Oh, East it’s what it feels like not to be in emergency mode.'” —Eva Zeller, LAc

Results may vary, but the idea is that the specific acupuncture points combined with the relaxing environment can help you drift off to sleep. In fact, Zeller says that he has noticed that many experience intense dreams in the middle of acupuncture. He even believes it’s possible to experience deep REM sleep in a relatively short session, which he says makes sense considering the practice is known to help reduce levels of the stress hormone cortisol. “Acupuncture helps turn off all the alarm bells for a moment, which reminds his mind and body, ‘Oh, East it’s what it feels like not to be in emergency mode,'” she says. The effect? ​​A visit to your dreams.

What to know about using acupressure points for sleep

Even if you can’t get into an acupuncture session or aren’t on the cards for some other reason, it’s still possible to achieve a similar effect using pressure points for sleep: manually aiming at acupressure points, using your fingers instead of needles of acupuncture. The concept is essentially the same; you’ll just want to recognize what, specifically, might be causing your restlessness and find the corresponding acupressure point.

“Sleep imbalances come from stress and not being able to calm down or self-soothe,” Stefanie Dilibero, MAc, LAc, acupuncturist and founder of Gotham Wellness in New York, told Well+Good. “People’s bodies and nervous systems are affected by stress in different physical manifestations. Acupressure points can be used as a way to focus on the specific ways in which your body needs balance, and when it’s balanced from a way specific to your conditions, you’ll be able to sleep better.”

For example, Pericardium 6 is a favorite acupressure point for nausea, but it also relieves anxiety and promotes a deeper nap. To access it, use a thumb to locate the fibrous tendon point on your forearm, a few inches from your wrist. Then press your thumb into the point and breathe in.

Or if increased anxiety, whether from doomscrolling or otherwise, is keeping you up at night, Heart 7 is what you want to tackle. Draw a line from the center of the tip of your little finger to the base of your wrist, where your palm and forearm meet. Then press and hold this area with two fingers as you take five slow, deep breaths. Repeat on your other wrist when you are done with your breath.

Ultimately, the energy meridians are just a channel to address sleep issues, and everyone’s body is different. But if you have restless nights or are looking for an easier way to wind down before bed, acupressure can help you pinpoint the problem.

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Originally published February 6, 2018. Updated March 18, 2021 with additional reporting by Aly Semigran.

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