Last week the Sleep Education Blog reported on a recent review of acupuncture for insomnia. The Hong Kong researchers found that study results are “somewhat promising,” but inconclusive.
Now the same research team has published the results of their own study. It appears in today’s issue of the journal Sleep.
The study involved a community sample of 60 Chinese adults with a mean age of 48 years; 77 percent were women. They reported having insomnia three or more nights per week; their struggle with insomnia had been ongoing for an average of nine years.
Half of the group received electroacupuncture. Fine needles were inserted at special points of the body – called “acupoints.” This included locations on the head and ears.
Then an electric stimulator was connected to the needles, delivering a constant current. The authors report that electroacupuncture is considered to be more effective than manual acupuncture. It provides a stronger and more continuous stimulation; it causes less pain and tissue damage; it takes less time; and its effects are more rapid and longer lasting.
The other 30 adults were in a placebo group. They were treated at the same acupoints but with fake needles that did not puncture the skin. The blunt needle created a pricking sensation when it touched the skin; then part of the needle moved up inside the handle. The same electric stimulator was connected to the needles, but with zero frequency and amplitude.
Both groups received treatment three times a week for three weeks. For each session the needles were removed after 30 minutes.
Results show that electroacupuncture provided only a slight advantage compared with the placebo acupuncture. Both groups showed short-term improvements after one week.
For people in the electroacupuncture group, their total sleep time measured by actigraphy increased by only about four minutes. The time it took them to fall asleep decreased by almost 10 minutes. The amount of time they spent awake in bed during the night decreased by almost 12 minutes.
The authors noted that people in the study had insomnia symptoms that were relatively mild; so there was limited room for improvement.
Overall, the treatment was safe and well tolerated; but it was less effective than other insomnia treatments such as medications and cognitive behavioral therapy.
The authors concluded that electroacupuncture is “potentially useful” for treating primary insomnia; but the benefits are still uncertain.