For sleep treatments to work well, a combination of tools and therapies is usually required, as sleep issues can be complex and stubborn to treat otherwise.
Insomnia, sleep apnea, restless leg syndrome and nightmares are the most common sleep issues that people seek treatment for in my clinic. These issues tend to come up together as well. For instance, people with sleep apnea often suffer from insomnia. Or people with nightmares or vivid disturbing dreams end up with insomnia because of these dreams.
Some of the most common symptoms associated with insomnia and other sleep disorders we see in the clinic are:
- Unable to fall asleep, mind racing, or anxiety
- Waking up at the same time every night
- Waking up in the middle of the night after a couple of hours of sleep
- Physical restlessness when trying to fall asleep or in the middle of the night
- Feeling hot, night sweats and hot flashes around 1 or 2am
- Waking up early in the morning either wide awake or slightly groggy but anxious
- Restless throughout the night
- Narcolepsy and seizures
- Sleep apnea and snoring in both women and men
- Insomnia and bedwetting in children
In my local practice in Boulder, Colorado, I use a specialized type of acupuncture for sleep disorders. This approach looks at the patterns used by most acupuncturists all over the world, but it goes into deeper detail to help diagnose why you can’t sleep well.
The first wealth is health.
– Ralph Waldo Emerson
When I do my interviewing, I will be asking you lots of questions about your sleep. The night gets categorized in 3 main areas. Once we identify which area or areas are most affected, we further break it down. That is based on the depth of your sleep and/or the quality. Finally, the type of sleep disturbance along with all your other symptoms (which may not seem to you to be related to sleep) will give me the information I need to choose the best treatment plan and acupuncture points combination for you.
How does acupuncture help as a treatment for insomnia and sleep apnea?
- Acupuncture balances the body and aids sleep by altering brain chemistry
- It changes the release of neurotransmitters
- It helps restore your natural circadian rhythm
- Acupuncture also has been shown to increase melatonin production and increase nervous system substances, including ACTH, beta-endorphins, serotonin, and noreadrenaline – these are substances that play a crucial role in regulating sleep and mood
- It can affect the serotonergic pathways that are related to the caudal raphe neurons that control the muscles of the upper airway and help with sleep apnea.
- Acupuncture may also act to strengthen the genioglossus (tongue muscle) to prevent collapsing and blocking of the airway.
Sleep treatments with functional medicine
When I first started studying functional medicine I thought it would be more of a focused learning since I specialize in sleep. Not surprisingly, since we are looking for the root of the problem, not being able to sleep well can arise for many different reasons.
Some of the systems or imbalances that we focus on with our sleep treatments:
- Hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenal (HPA) axis dysregulation
- Neurotransmitter imbalances, such as low serotonin and GABA, high glutamate and noradrenaline
- Chronic stress, anxiety, depression
- Hormonal imbalances such as perimenopause, menopause, short luteal phase, low progesterone, estrogen dominance
- Gut issues such as poor absorption, abnormal bacteria growth, parasites, inflammation, SIBO
- Chronic infections
- Overall inflammation
- Heavy metals accumulation
It is no wonder that many people are so frustrated by the fact that taking some over-the-counter remedies doesn’t make a dent in their sleepless nights. Sleep issues can have deep roots and the sleep treatments have to match the complexity.