Trouble sleeping? How Traditional Chinese Medicine and acupuncture can help

By Dr. Alyssa Cochrane, Dr. Ac, BA

Approximately 30 to 35% of the general population experiences acute, or short-term, insomnia. But sleep issues are on the rise, thanks to the pandemic.

According to Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) issues with sleep are often linked to emotional strain or stress, chronic illness, improper diet, and poor sleep patterns. The most notable examples include performing shift work or having a lack of routine around bedtime.

Along with establishing healthy sleep habits, acupuncture can be a welcome addition to the treatment of insomnia and sleep disorders.

How acupuncture helps treat sleep issues

Research shows that acupuncture can impact sleep-wake cycles, and calming the nervous system, allowing for reduction of stress symptoms and helping to improve sleep.

It also can affect neurotransmitters (such as serotonin and GABA) in the brain as well as the endocrine system, which can impact the way the body secretes melatonin, an important sleep hormone, altering amount and quality of sleep.

How a personalized acupuncture plan helps manage your specific sleep issues

While there are some general acupuncture points that are often used during treatment for preexisting sleep issues or to help improve energy, your acupuncturist will create a personalized treatment plan based on your particular sleep symptoms.

During your first visit, you’ll be asked several questions to pinpoint your sleeping issues, including:

  • If you have issues falling asleep, staying asleep, or both
  • The reasons you are waking (for example, restless mind/overthinking, uncomfortable physical ailments such as body temperature fluctuations or digestive issues, and/or dreams interrupting your sleep)
  • Your wake and sleep patterns (consistent times you wake up, issues falling back asleep)
  • Symptoms experienced after poor night of sleep (for example, palpitations, headache, blurred vision, dizziness, or bitter taste in the mouth.)
  • How rested you feel and your overall levels of energy, even after many hours of sleep

Information about your sleep symptoms and habits will help your acupuncturist determine what TCM “pattern” your sleep issue falls within.  

These “patterns” help to identify dysfunction in the body and how to bring about a sense of balance and wellness – an important step in creating the treatment plan (acupuncture points and/or herbal formula) best suited for you.

As with many conditions, you can expect changes for more acute or recent sleep issues to see improvement in fewer treatments, while long term patterns of sleep disturbance will require more in-depth treatment plans and feedback given between treatments to facilitate change.

Get a better night’s sleep. Book with Dr. Alyssa Cochrane

Get support for your sleep and lifestyle goals. Book with Dr. Cochrane and start your personalized treatment plan that fits your needs.


D.W. Spence, L. Kayumov, A. Chen, A. Lowe, U. Jain, M.A. Katzman, et al. Acupuncture increases nocturnal melatonin secretion and reduces insomnia and anxiety: a preliminary report. J Neuropsychiatry Clin Neurosci, 16 (2004), pp. 19-28

Haker, E., Egekvist, H., & Bjerring, P. (2000, February 14). Effect of sensory stimulation (acupuncture) on sympathetic and parasympathetic activities in healthy subjects. Journal of the Autonomic Nervous System, 79(1), 52-59. doi:

Guo, L.P. Wang, C.Z. Liu, J. Zhang, G.L. Wang, J.H. Yi, et al. Efficacy of acupuncture for primary insomnia: a randomized controlled clinical trial Evid Based Complement Alternat Med, 2013 (2013), p. 163850

Zhao. Acupuncture for the treatment of insomnia Int Rev Neurobiol, 111 (2013), pp. 217-234

Gao, M. Zhang, H. Gong, L. Bai, X.J. Dai, Y. Min, et al. Differential activation patterns of FMRI in sleep-deprived brain: restoring effects of acupuncture. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med, 2014 (2014), p. 465760

Mandiroglu, Sibel, and Cigdem Ozdilekcan. "Impact of Acupuncture on Chronic Insomnia: A Report of Two Cases with Polysomnographic Evaluation." Journal of Acupuncture and Meridian Studies, vol. 10, no. 2, Apr., pp. 135-38, doi:

Jiao, Y. Han, X. Li, Y.G. Fang, Z.H. Liu, W.N. Zhou, et al. Comparison of body, auricular, and abdominal acupuncture treatments for insomnia differentiated as internal harassment of phlegm-heat syndrome: an orthogonal design. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med, 2015 (2015), p. 578972

Insomina in a pandemic. Harvard Business Review. April 16, 2020

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