By Aaron Olden MD, FACP, Owner, Mindful Medicine Rochester
You’re not alone – medical studies estimate that between 15-25% of adults in the United States suffer from insomnia at any given time.
As if that weren’t bad enough, insomnia often occurs in conjunction with psychological disorders and may affect as many as 50-80% of patients in a typical mental health practice. Sleep problems are particularly common in patients with anxiety, depression and bipolar disorder.
Insomnia refers to a disorder of sleep that manifests as perceived difficulty falling asleep, decreased duration of sleep, or altered quality of sleep coupled with daytime impairment. Daytime impairment refers to altered daytime alertness which may manifest as decreased concentration, irritability, fatigue, and/or errors at work or motor vehicle accidents.
Have you ever noticed that when you’re under more stress, it’s often even harder to fall asleep and/or stay asleep? Just when you feel that you need sleep the most, it becomes harder to attain.
One of the reasons for this is that when we are chronically stressed our sympathetic or “fight or flight” nervous system is overactive. This leads to a vicious cycle whereby stressful situations lead to increased stress hormones, and the subsequent sleep impairment leads to even further elevations in these stress hormones. In fact, we know that the stress hormone cortisol is increased in patients with insomnia and that resting heart rate and body temperature may be elevated in those with chronic insomnia. These are markers of inflammation that may have negative effects on our cardiovascular and immune systems as well.
Acupuncture represents a unique intervention for the treatment of insomnia. It’s well known that one of the ways acupuncture works is by stimulating the parasympathetic nervous system, or the “rest and relaxation” nervous system. This system balances the influences of the sympathetic “fight or flight” system. In other words, acupuncture helps to modulate our nervous system to bring balance back to the body. Another compelling reason to try acupuncture for insomnia is that the side effects are minimal, unlike many prescription medications which may be habit-forming and/or lead to unwanted effects such as daytime fatigue.
Acupuncture treatments generally last between 30-40 minutes per session and as few as 4-6 needles may be required for an effective treatment. Most providers recommend that patients with insomnia begin with a series of three to four acupuncture treatments spaced one week apart. This gives the body a time to adjust to the treatment and allows the treatments to be modified as necessary. Once this initial series is completed, many patients find that a monthly treatment is sufficient to keep their sleep function stable.
At Mindful Medicine Rochester, we believe in educating our patients on proper sleep hygiene and mindfulness techniques along with acupuncture treatments to aid with improving sleep. This combination of “Western and Eastern medicine” is what makes our practice a unique alternative to traditional medical care.
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Dr. Olden is a board-certified internal medicine physician, acupuncturist, and yoga instructor. He was named one of Rochester’s 40 under 40 by Rochester Business Journal in 2017 and is the owner of Mindful Medicine Rochester.