Did you know that acupressure can help to improve sleep and fight insomnia? In fact, acupressure addresses sleep disorders both directly and indirectly. By massaging certain acupoints before bedtime, you can succeed in falling asleep faster and have a higher quality of sleep without the need for sedatives.
Sleep disorders affect the ability to sleep well on a regular basis. Most commonly caused by stress and certain health problems, sleep disorders are becoming increasingly common, with more than 75 percent of Americans aged 20 to 59 reporting sleep difficulties regularly.
A general lack of sleep is dangerous and can lead to various mental and physical problems such as cognitive and memory impairment, depression, loss of libido, serious cardiovascular health problems, hypertension, diabetes, and other unwanted consequences.
Therefore, addressing sleep disorders which lower your daily recommended amount of sleep is paramount. While consulting a healthcare professional is the best first step, acupressure can help to improve your ability to fall asleep and stay asleep when practiced regularly and lower your dependence on sedatives.
In this article, we will look at sleep disorders, the common causes behind them, and how acupressure can help to improve sleep and fight insomnia.
The Symptoms, the Types of Sleep Disorders, and the Causes
There are different types of sleep disorders which may reduce the amount of quality sleep while also making you sleepy throughout the day. Although the symptoms of a sleep disorder can vary depending on the severity and type of sleep disorder, they generally include:
- Difficulty falling or staying asleep;
- Daytime fatigue;
- Strong need for naps during the day;
- Anxiety or irritability;
- Lack of concentration;
- Impaired work or school performance;
- Weight gain; and
Sleep disorders can occur because of a variety of circumstances and health conditions. The factors which can cause sleep disorders vary between:
- Physical (such as pain);
- Medical (such as asthma);
- Psychiatric (such as stress, anxiety, and depression);
- Environmental (such as light, noise, or extreme temperatures);
- Age-related (young age and old age can affect sleep);
- Lifestyle-related (coffee, cigarettes, and alcohol); and
- Medication-related (drugs that cause sleeplessness or daytime fatigue).
Below, we will look at the some of the most common sleep disorders, and the causes that lie behind each of them.
Insomnia is characterized with trouble falling asleep or waking up frequently during the night or early in the morning. It ultimately results in reduced sleep time and can affect your day-to-day functioning.
Insomnia can be transient, lasting for just a few nights at a time; intermittent, occurring periodically; and chronic, which happens on a regular basis for at least a month.
The causes behind insomnia vary greatly and contribute to different types of insomnia. So, jetlag, certain illnesses, stress, drinking too much coffee or alcohol, smoking cigarettes, or taking medications which disrupt sleep, can all lead to short-term insomnia.
Long-term insomnia can be caused by chronic stress, anxiety, depression, and other sleep or mood disorders.
Circadian Rhythm Disorders
The circadian rhythm is the body’s internal clock which dictates the sleep/wake cycles among other things. Exercise and the presence of light, along with certain habits and circumstances, can move this clock forward or backward, resulting in disrupted sleep.
The circadian sleep disorders include:
- Jet lag;
- Adjustments to shift work;
- Delayed sleep phase syndrome (going to bed and getting up too late); and
- Advanced sleep phase syndrome (going to bed and getting up too early).
Snoring and Obstructive Sleep Apnea
Snoring and sleep apnea are the result of an obstruction in the airways. This blockage can sometimes occur as a result of allergies, asthma, or nasal deformities. However, the main culprit behind sleep apnea is the fact that the throat muscles relax too much, thus blocking the free passage of air into the lungs.
Obstructive sleep apnea causes you to wake up during the night. This happens in response to the body’s increased effort to overcome the obstruction of the airway. Needless to say, this condition lowers the quality and quantity of your sleep.
This is a class of sleep disorders which cause abnormal movements and behaviors during sleep. These can make you wake up either directly or indirectly and can affect the quality of sleep. Parasomnias include:
- Sleep talking;
- Nightmares and night terrors;
- Bedwetting; and
- Teeth grinding or jaw clenching.
The causes behind each of these sleep disorders vary from psychological to environmental.
Sleep Changes During Pregnancy
Due to hormonal changes and varying psychological states, pregnancy can have an impact on sleep. During the first trimester of pregnancy, the hormonal changes can cause fatigue. However, toward the end of pregnancy, women can find it difficult to sleep because of a range of reasons such as:
- Uncomfortable size of the abdomen;
- Worry; and
- Vivid dreams.
If you have difficulty sleeping during pregnancy, it is best to consult an acupressure specialist to determine if acupressure is the right health practice for you. Generally, acupressure is to be avoided during pregnancy as certain acupoints may induce labor.
How Acupressure Can Help with Sleep and Insomnia
Acupressure stems from Chinese traditional medicine. It is a non-invasive, safe, and effective method for the treatment of various physical and psychological ailments which is based on the principles of acupuncture.
In terms of sleep, it addresses many physical and mental aspects which can interfere with it. It can help you to fall asleep more easily and sleep better once you do, as the sleep-related acupoints serve to calm the mind and the body.
Although it is an ancient practice, it has not been until recently that the scientific community started to confirm the effects of acupressure on insomnia. Ranging from children all the way to cancer patients and the elderly, this technique has been shown to improve the general quality of sleep and reduce the need for sedatives.
A recent study, for example, looked at how acupressure affected insomnia in adolescents at the age of around 15 years old. The researchers found that acupressure helps not only to fall asleep more easily, but also to remain asleep efficiently.
Another study confirmed the same effectiveness on cancer-induced insomnia, with 80% of the patients reporting an improvement in the quality of sleep after a two-week treatment.
The elderly can also benefit from the effectiveness of acupressure when it comes to improving the quality of sleep. One study confirmed that after treating older adults three days per week for four weeks, the participants saw significant improvements in sleep quality, sleep duration, sleep efficiency, sleep disturbance, sleep latency, and daily performance.
There is a growing body of research which has investigated the effectiveness of acupressure on sleep and insomnia, and the scientific community is still expanding their knowledge on this topic. However, they all agree that acupressure is an excellent non-invasive method which can help you to fight insomnia and achieve better sleep.
Acupoints Related to Sleep and Insomnia
There are several acupoints which, when massaged, can help to fight insomnia and improve sleep. They work by addressing the physical and mental aspects which affect sleep. If your sleep disturbances are caused by pains resulting from headaches and migraines or by gastrointestinal issues, check out our other posts here and here to learn how acupressure can help.
The Third Eye Point (GV-24.5)
Image credit: Modern Reflexology
This acupoint is one of the best acupressure points for sleep apnea and sleep disorders caused by a stressed, irritated mind. It helps to calm the mind, relax the central nervous system, relieve anxiety, depression, fear, panic attacks, and insomnia. It is also excellent for sinusitis.
It is located between the eyebrows, where the bridge of the nose connects to the forehead.
Vital Diaphragm (BL-38)
Image credit: Modern Reflexology
These acupoints are among the most important acupoints for improving sleep and fighting insomnia. Stimulating them helps in balancing emotions of anxiety, stress, fear, and grief, which hinder sleep.
The points are located at the heart level on the back, between the spine and the shoulder blade on each side. To apply acupressure on these points, place two tennis balls on the floor side by side and lie on them so that they are placed between your shoulder blades.
The Wind Mansion (GV-16)
Image credit: Acupressurepoints.org
Stimulating this acupressure point can help to relieve insomnia and sleep disorders caused by stress, mania, palpitations, fear, and suicidal thoughts. It also helps with headache and earache, throat swelling, eye problems, asthma, and other conditions.
This acupoint is located at the center of the back of the head, in the hollow under the base of the skull.
Gates of Consciousness (GB-20)
Image credit: Acupressurepointsguide.com
These acupoints are good for relieving insomnia and disturbed sleep, migraines, headaches, low energy, fatigue, blurred vision, as well as the symptoms of the cold and flu.
They are located at the base of the skull, in the hollow between the vertical neck muscles.
Heavenly Pillar (BL-10)
Image credit: Acupressure.com.au
These acupressure points are excellent in the treatment of headaches, neck pain, and dizziness, and play a significant role in relieving insomnia, stress, and exhaustion, bringing relaxation and calming the thoughts. They are also effective in the treatment of pains in the shoulders and back, nasal congestion, sore throat, and skin problems.
They are located on the thick muscles on the back of the neck, precisely two fingers below the base of the skull.
Spirit Gate (HT-7)
Image credit: Miridia Tech
This acupressure point helps in relieving insomnia caused by emotional issues, anxiety, overexcitement, and cold sweats. It is also good for irritability, chest pain, cardiac pain, palpitations, and hypertension.
It is located at the wrist crease, on the radial side of the flexor carpi ulnaris tendon, between the ulna and pisiform bones.
Inner Gate (PC-6)
Image credit: Explore IM
Well known for treating nausea and vomiting, this acupoint also helps to relieve insomnia by reducing anxiety, indigestion, and palpitations. It is also beneficial in the treatment of chest congestion, cardiac pain, depression, irritability, cough, asthma, dizziness, and other health issues.
It is located at an approximately three-fingers length above the wrist crease on the inner side of the arm.
Sea of Tranquility (CV-17)
Image credit: Modern Reflexology
This acupoint is good for relieving insomnia caused by anxiety, nervousness, and chest congestion. It can also help in the treatment of asthma, cough, palpitations, and breast issues.
It is located in the middle of the chest, two thumb widths above the base of the breastbone.
Three yin intersection (SP-6)
Image credit: MiridiaTech
Although it is generally used to treat issues related to the genital area, such as menstrual problems, difficult labor, genital pain, and others, this acupoint is also effective against insomnia. Do not stimulate this point if you are pregnant, as it may induce labor.
To locate it, pace four finger widths up your leg above the highest point of your ankle on the inner side of the leg. It is located slightly behind the biggest leg bone (the tibia).
Shining Sea (KI-6)
Image credit: Eclectic Energies
Stimulating this acupoint helps with relieving insomnia, anxiety, and fear. It is also a good point for hypertension, digestive disorders, dry and sore throat, eye problems, irregular menstruation, and other issues.
You can find this point on the inside of the foot, in the slight depression directly below the middle of the ankle bone.
Extending Vessel (BL-62)
Image credit: Natural Health Zone
This acupoint is effective for combating sleeping disorders, insomnia, mania, chronic fatigue, headaches, neck rigidity, as well as lumbar and leg pain. Stimulate it in combination with Shining Sea (KI-62) for best effects.
You can locate it in the first indentation directly below the outer anklebone.
Gushing Spring (KI-1)
Image credit: TheGoodNightCo
This acupressure point is good for night sweats, insomnia, palpitations, hot flashes, mania, and anxiety. It also helps with nausea, vomiting, dizziness, neck pain, headache, constipation, and other issues.
To locate it, curl your toes and feel for the depression under the ball of the foot between the second and the third toe bone.
How to Perform Acupressure on Yourself Before Bed
If you want to fall asleep more easily, it is best to perform acupressure on one or more of the points we discussed some time before you go to bed. To apply successful acupressure, follow these instructions:
- Place your thumb or index finger on the acupoint and apply enough pressure to move the skin;
- Start massaging the point in slow, circular motions;
- With every few circles, increase the pressure gently, allowing the muscle tissue to relax. If there is no muscle tissue under the acupoint, increase the pressure slowly;
- You should not feel pain, but some dull aching sensation is normal;
- Keep applying pressure for at least a minute; and
- Repeat the procedure after a short break, if necessary.
Another great way to apply acupressure is to lie down on an acupressure mat for a few minutes before bed. Acupressure mats provide a great way to trigger multiple acupressure points on your body simultaneously.
Some Precautions Related to Acupressure
Acupressure is a non-invasive, safe method which anybody can practice on themselves. However, you should avoid acupressure self-treatment in the following cases:
- If you are pregnant (as some acupoints can induce labor);
- If the acupoint is under scar tissue;
- If you have varicose veins;
- If there is a wound, swelling, or other damage to the skin;
- If you have rheumatoid arthritis, bone disease, or spinal injury;
It is best to consult an acupressure specialist before you start practicing acupressure on yourself. However, regardless of the effectiveness of this method, you should never replace it for professional medical care. Consult a healthcare professional if you believe you are suffering from a sleep disorder which has lasted for more than a few nights.
The Bottom Line
Acupressure is an excellent self-help tool for many physical and mental issues. It can be extremely effective when used to promote better sleep and calm the mind. When practicing acupressure for sleep, many of the points serve to address insomnia either directly or indirectly by treating the states which cause it.
So, the next time you are struggling to fall asleep, try massaging one of the acupoints for sleep and insomnia. However, do not underestimate the need for professional medical treatment if you are struggling with a sleep disorder which has lasted for a longer period.