Insomnia – brain imaging studies show how acupuncture helps

I’ve written about how brain imaging helps to understand how acupuncture works a couple of weeks ago.  Now I stumbled upon a study about acupuncture for insomnia and sleep deprivation. The study was conducted by JiaoTong university in China.

They only chose one acupuncture point on a leg, which could be used to treat insomnia. To test if acupuncture really made a difference, the researchers used another area on the same leg, only 2 centimetres away from the real acupoint. To further help to understand the effect of acupuncture they scanned people who were not sleep deprived but received the same treatment.

You can see the results on the image above. The first horizontal row shows the brain of people students who received stimulation when they weren’t sleep deprived. The second row is where we can see significant changes to various areas of the brain; this is where real acupuncture was used on the same students after total sleep deprivation for one night.

The third row shows sham or fake treatment, where they used exactly the same needle, but on an area away from an acupuncture point.

The researchers conclude, that the difference in brain activation suggests the importance of SP6 in the treatment of sleep deprivation. Thanks, to the technology of FMRI we’re a little closer to understanding the mechanism of acupuncture for insomnia and sleep deprivation.

Reference: Differential activation patterns of fMRI in sleep-deprived brain: restoring effects of acupuncture

Transcranial current stimulation

There are a number of new studies on transcranial direct current stimulation and on transcranial magnetic stimulation. The newly discovered benefits of these therapies include pain relief, treatment for major depression, cognitive enhancement (including speeding up learning, creativity enhancement, and improving mathematical abilities, etc.).

Are these new transcranial therapies really novel? The treatment seems to be strikingly similar to scalp electroacupuncture, which has been used safely and effectively for decades.

We have numerous studies supporting scalp acupuncture for treatment of conditions such as

Acupuncture is much cheaper compared to transcranial therapies

  • US$300 is a cost of a typical transcranial magnetic stimulation session
  • NZ$70 (US$57) cost of a typical acupuncture session in New Zealand

As brain mapping techniques are becoming more accessible and we’re getting a better understanding of the human brain. This opens opportunities to design new treatments for numerous other conditions with electro-acupuncture, transcranial current stimulation and transcranial magnetic stimulation.

The image: mapping of the White Matter fibers

Acupuncture for Insomnia

The largest study on acupuncture and insomnia to date found acupuncture to be more effective than orthodox sleeping medications at improving your sleep and relieving insomnia. The researchers also found that combining acupuncture with medication was more beneficial than medication alone. Acupuncture plus herbs also improved sleep better than herbs alone.

This study (meta-analysis) included 46 randomized trials and 3811 patients. It was published The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine.

The bottom line:

The most common solution your doctor will offer for insomnia is sleeping pills. Unfortunately the sleeping pills are addictive and their effect diminishes with time. Furthermore, sleeping pills don’t give you quality sleep and have a sedative effect, which may affect your performance during the day as well as driving. Acupuncture offers a superior alternative to sleeping medications. Acupuncture does not have the side effects of the sleeping pills and it is more effective in treatment of insomnia.