Benefits of Acupuncture on Depression and Insomnia

By Peter SJ Lee, Registered Acupuncturist 

(Credit Fran_loablog)

(Credit Fran_loablog)

Personally, I am more interested in alleviating psychoemotional conditions such as insomnia and depression. Not only are psychological and emotional conditions difficult to treat but also there are limited options available for them in modern medicine. Most of the treatments are through medications and they only alleviate the symptoms, ignoring the root cause of the problem, and inevitably have side effects. Also, each individual requires different types and dosages of medications, hence, making it impossible to treat everyone with one type of treatment. On the other hand, acupuncture does not have a limitation on who can or who cannot receive the treatment and is able to address both root and branches of a problem with minimal chances of side effects.




"Acupuncture can alleviate psychoemotional conditions such as insomnia and depression"

One of the most basic theories of acupuncture and traditional East Asian medicine is that everyone is different. By gathering relevant diagnostic information and with treatment plans tailored for each individual, acupuncture can alleviate psychoemotional conditions such as insomnia and depression.

Most people would acknowledge the importance of sleep. However, not many people realize just how many of the common main complaints come from not getting enough sleep. Insufficient amount of sleep will increase the risks of or directly lead to irritability, headaches, heart diseases, weight gain, poor vision, infection, gastrointestinal conditions such as inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), depression, diabetes, and cancer. Sleep is extremely important to our overall health. Both the amount and quality of sleep is directly related to the physical and mental health.

In traditional East Asian medicine, insomnia is defined as a condition in which quantity and quality of sleep are decreased consistently for more than a month. Insomnia may be present in the form of one or more of the following: difficulty falling asleep, waking up easily throughout the night (Not from pain or full bladder), early awakening with difficulty going back to sleep, and dream-disturbed sleep. Insomnia may be due to multiple factors including pathogenic heat, overthinking, emotional frustration, and depression.

Nowadays, there are more scientific researches that study the effectiveness of acupuncture. Among many, in a research published in the Shanghai Journal of Acupuncture and Moxibustion, acupuncture was shown to be 90% effective in improving total sleep duration and sleep quality for patients with depression. Acupuncture treatments had similar clinical results and lowered the relapse rates just as much as antidepressants without any side effects. There were two groups; one being acupuncture group and the other being antidepressant medication (Mirtazapine) group. Total effective rate for acupuncture treatment was 90% while that of mirtazapine treatment was 92.5%. However, dizziness, drowsiness, vision changes, weight gain, increased appetite, and constipation were common in the medication group while acupuncture group did not experience any side effects.

In the research, Hamilton Depression Rating Scale (HAM-D) was used to measure improvements. Within one month of the treatment, the acupuncture group showed 9.7% improvement and the medication group showed 15.9% improvement in the HAM-D score. Within three months of the treatment, the acupuncture group showed 36.2% improvement while the medication group showed 32.5% improvement.

"acupuncture improves total sleep duration and sleep quality significantly, which in return, reduced the relapse rate for depression and insomnia and improved overall health, both physically and mentally, without any side effects."

For three months, the acupuncture group received treatments every other day while the medication group were given 20 mg of mirtazapine tablets orally once a day. The point prescription for the acupuncture group consisted of primary acupuncture points, which addressed the depression and insomnia, and of secondary acupuncture points, which addressed differential diagnosis of each individual. The primary acupuncture points included a point on the wrist (Shenmen – HT-7), a point on the leg (Sanyinjiao – SP-6), and a point between the eyebrows (Yintang). The secondary acupuncture points, which were added to address the different needs of each individual, included a point on the foot (Taichong – LR-3) and a point on the leg (Yanglingquan – GB-34) if the other symptoms they had were liver related symptoms such as headache, irritability, and rib pain, or a point on the arm (Jianshi – PC-5), and a point on the leg (Zusanli – ST-36) if the other symptoms they had were spleen symptoms such as poor appetite, indigestion, vomiting, nausea, and epigastric or abdominal pain. The acupuncture needles were stimulated every 10 minutes and were retained for 30 minutes.

It was concluded that acupuncture improves total sleep duration and sleep quality significantly, which in return, reduced the relapse rate for depression and insomnia and improved overall health, both physically and mentally, without any side effects.

Another study, a single-blinded, randomized, placebo-controlled research, concluded that acupuncture improves sleep and reduces insomnia when compared to sham acupuncture (random needling) and to a medication, estazolam. Acupuncture showed significantly superior results improving total sleep duration and sleep quality just like the previously mentioned research. The acupuncture point prescription in this research included few points on the head (Shenting – GV-24, Sishencong, and Baihui – GV-20), a point on the wrist (Shenmen – HT-7), and a point on the leg (Sanyinjiao – SP-6). The estazolam medication group experienced side effects such as daytime drowsiness.

In another research, acupuncture was shown to increase the bodily serotonin levels and the concentration of gama-aminobutyric acid (GABA) in cerebrospinal fluid. Serotonin is one of the neurotransmitters which regulate cognitive function, mood, sleep, and appetite while GABA is another neurotransmitter which reduces the excitability of the neurons thereby calming them down. In this research, acupuncture was shown to have 93.3% total effective rate in the treatment of insomnia. The point prescription included a point on the head (Shenting – GV-24), a point on the wrist (Shenmen – HT-7), points on the leg (Sanyinjiao – SP-6 and Zusanli – ST-36), a point between the eyebrows (Yintang), and a point behind the ears (Anmian). The needles were retained for 45 minutes each session. Additionally, acupuncture points in the ear (Subcortex and Shenmen) were used with ear seeds (Vaccaria seeds covered with zinc oxide tape) rather than needles and patients were to stimulate them for few minutes each day.

'Acupuncture acts as a guide to lead the body in the right direction to the healthy state because where you are headed is more important than how fast you are moving.'

In conclusion, many modern day scientific researches are done to show the effectiveness of the ancient art of healing. The researches showed that acupuncture successfully increased total sleep duration and quality while decreasing daytime dysfunction and sleepiness with no side effects. As acupuncture is a nature way to treat our body, acupuncture took some time to show the results. For conditions like insomnia and depression, it is highly unlikely that there will be drastic improvements with one treatment. One research was as long as three months. Acupuncture simply cannot alleviate the symptoms as quickly as the medications because acupuncture does not add synthetic hormones into the system or chemically modify the human body. Unless a condition developed overnight, it will not disappear overnight as like how it takes time and effort to change a long-term habit.

Though our body knows how to heal itself, sometimes it is overwhelmed and does not know where to start or which direction to head to. Acupuncture acts as a guide to lead the body in the right direction to the healthy state because where you are headed is more important than how fast you are moving.


Peter SJ Lee is a Registered Acupuncturist and Traditional Chinese Medicine Practitioner at M.O.A. Living Wellness

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References Kelman L, Rains JC (2005). Headache and Sleep: Examination of Sleep Patterns and Complaints in a Large Clinical Sample of Migraineurs. Meier-Ewert HK, Ridker PM, Rifai N, Regan MM, Price NJ (2004). Effects of Sleep Loss on C-reactive protein, an Inflammatory Marker of Cardiovascular Risk. Benedict C, Brooks SJ, O’Daly OG, Almen MS, Morell A (2012). Acute Sleep Deprivation enhances the Brain’s Reponse to Hedonic Food Stimuli: an fMRI Study. Orzel-Gryglewska J (2010). Consequences of Sleep Deprivation. C. A. Everson. (1993). Sustained Sleep Deprivation impairs Host Defense. American Journal of Physiology. Tauseef Ali. James Choe, Ahmed Awab, Theodore L Wagener (2013). Sleep, Immunity, and Inflammation in Gastrointestinal Disorder. World Journal of Gastroenterology. Baglioni C, Battagliese G, Feige B, Spiegelhaldar K (2011). Insomnia as a Predictor of Depression: A Meta-Analytic Evaluation of Longitudinal Epidemiological Studies. Ye GC & Yan H. (2014). Therapeutic Observation of Acupuncture for Depressive Insomnia. Shanghai Journal of Acupuncture and Moxibustion. 55(6) Lin-Peng Wang, Guo, Jing, Cun-Zhi Liu, Jie Zhang, Gui-Ling Wang, Jing-Hong, Yi, Jin-Lian cheng, and R. Musil. Efficacy of Acupuncture for Primary Insomnia: a Randomized Controlled Clinical Trial. Deutsche Zeitschrift fur Akupunktur 57, No. 4 (2014): 31-32 Wang H, Meng X.H, Zou W. (2014). Curative Effect of Acupuncture Therapy of Regulating Mentality combined with Auricular Point in the Treatment of Insomnia. Journal of Clinical Acupuncture and Moxibustion. 30(7).

If You Are Not Feeling It, Then You Are Not Feeling It - Chronicles From The Massage Table



If You Are Not Feeling It, Then You Are Not Feeling It - Chronicles From The Massage Table

Garnet Santicruz RMT


To be able to listen to the body, one must be present.

It’s not just a matter of knowing where parts are in the body but being able to acknowledge what must be treated first like a hierarchy of things.  It’s been over a decade of working with bodies that needed to be soothed, relaxed, healed and put back together and I can honestly say that it is still challenging to know what method to apply to get to the solution.

'I find myself closing my eyes when my mind is trying to take over.'

'I find myself closing my eyes when my mind is trying to take over.'

There is an art to working one on one with people though massage therapy but the real connection happens when you feel what is really happening under the skin.  In the beginning, my practice of massage was very technical and clinical.  Every client was like taking my practical exam over and over again. Now a decade past, the technical and clinical overlaps intuition. Now I find myself closing my eyes when my mind is trying to take over.  This method, borrowed from a blind man massaging in a local mall in the Philippines, enables me to really feel this medium called the body.  It's like putting your hands in water,  where air and water is separated through a very thin line.  A lot can be said about thin lines in the body and one example is how pain and pleasure travels down the same neuropathway. I find that my eyes shut allows my other senses to be heightened or at least less noisy.  The blind man from the Philippines was able to tell a lot about my body.  Just by touching my neck and shoulders without any formal training in Anatomy or Neurology he was able to trace where my body was restricted. He also noticed that I was not breathing properly like I was stressed. Fast forward to now I would put myself in that exact situation by turning off a bias of judgement during treatment which are my eyes.  It can be deceiving sometimes when we are always using our eyes to judge and as simple as quieting the mind my having less works for me.  At this point I am able to follow the rhythm of the body like listening to a song with its many changes of sound.  The body has a rhythm whether you say, ' I have two left feet' but still the body says 'I have rhythm just not on the dance floor.'

'I have rhythm just not on the dance floor.'

'I have rhythm just not on the dance floor.'

Understanding, that the body is rhythmical, like air going in and out of your lungs or the beats of your heart, timing is everything. To plug into the hardware is what it’s like to connect with someone’s body. Feeling and intuitiveness is of importance. The analysis of a disorganized body, which pain often presents itself, comes through a collaboration of the mind and what your connections (hands, arms, etc.) is giving you.   The approach comes latter on what to do next.  A plan on how to treat the body is a good start but the actual treating happens when total immersion occur and essentially you are able to feel every part of the body from head to toe.



Stay Engaged and Leaned In (By Garnet Santicruz)


Do you wake up in the middle night? Or only getting a few hours of sleep? Now this is normal if you have a young one. If your work is creating stress in your body that it's now even influencing your nervous system then it is time to reflect and maybe look for a new job.  

See, a job is something like a toy.  When you first started working it was new, interesting, uncomfortable even.  But then, like a toy that's been played for a few times, you get bored. You now know most of what is going to happen when you press this button, or that button.  The common discomforts and dissatisfaction in a workplace is not the bonus or perks of a job but how your contribution is actually making an impact.

A friend of mine who was a very high ranking in his organization wanted to switch jobs with me. I asked, "What do you mean? You are responsible for thousands of jobs, I am just responsible for the person that I am seeing." It took me a few years after to realise that what he was saying was that my job was something that was something that can be felt, touched, instantly see the reaction from the treatment. His job was being done through paper and mathematical equations.  There were no faces. No interaction. Just paper and screen. You see a job, through my observations should always bring an enthusiasm.  Like your favourite toy, the job should be cherished, a place of comfort, has endless possibilities. We humans thrive on curiosity and creativity.  We love games and changing things up. We became adjusted to sitting and staring at a screen without really taking time to step back to see if this  job, this source, this time commitment that most of us spend most of our lives in is our truest expression.  We get caught in the title, the prestige, the respect and then one day we become like everyone else when we retire. Who we really are cannot be described by the careers that we chose.   What makes us skip, laugh, deeply think, frustrated and still continue to move ahead is what makes us better. 

To stay engaged and 'leaned in' towards a job, this can be applied through many contexts, we need to find new things to look into. If you have children, watch him play with a toy that shifts, has many buttons, complex. We are problem solvers and that is why technology, inventions and discoveries has happened.  We want to know 'what is that under that?' or 'Why is that?' Some of the greatest were created through seeking.  A job worth keeping must have qualities of change, challenge, and growth.  We are who we are and for most of us we want a different experience.  It's like that trip that you were on at an all inclusive. First, you are grateful for the sun and heat and let's face not thinking about work for the next few days. Second day, you still have the same sun and heat but now a beer would be even better for this occasion. Then the third day, the same sun, heat, beer but now 'a cigar' would make this moment better.  So as you can see, we tend  to add more experience to 'the experience'.  The job that we tend to get are ones like this experience. It's the same place but we add more to gain different senses but it's the same thing. Without transformation, essentially an employment that invokes small and big shifts is what gives us the motivation to 'leaned in'.

Having worked on people that stress for a living the common comment is that 'It's just too much work!' or 'This is not what I signed for'. All the bonus in the world could not keep these individuals in those environments. Instead, they would rather take a smaller pay but with more satisfying work that makes sense to their lifestyle. It's not complicated.  So "How do you stay engaged and leaned in?" Do the work that has the right amount of change and lined with your values. And the next time somebody ask, 'What do you do?' I hope that you talk their ears off.