Yawn! How to sleep successfully.

What keeps us awake?

The Great British Sleep Survey was undertaken between March 2010 and June 2012. Results were both interesting and worrying.

The report shared physical and psychological factors that keep us awake at night.

Physical factors was led with bodily discomfort affecting 67% of the 20,000 respondents across the UK. This includes being woken from sleep with an urge to go to the toilet as well as aches and pains.

Psychological factors was dominated by the  ‘racing mind’ as the main cause of sleeplessness; the results reinforcing the role thoughts have in disturbing and affecting sleep.  Top of the list of thoughts was being ‘worried about tomorrow and the day’s events’ affecting 82% of those who responded to the 2012 sleep survey.

 Impact of Poor Sleep

Lack of sleep not only affects our ability to get some much needed rest, but has both physical and emotional consequences which can affect our days.

Poor sleepers are:

7 times more likely to feel helpless
5 times more likely to feel alone
3 times more likely to struggle
Twice as likely to suffer from fatigue
Twice as likely to have relationship problems
Twice as likely to suffer from low mood
Twice as likely to be less productive in the workplace

Day time issues affecting both men and women as a result of poor sleep were reduced energy levels, relationship issues and moods.

Age and Sleep

As we get older our sleep is more broken and the quality of sleep decreases, 49% more people over the age of 60 suffer from long term sleep problems than those in their 20s.

As we age however it is different situations that stop us from sleeping well; up to middle age it’s children and noise, whereas when we get older it becomes age related bodily discomfort.

 Sleeping Pills

The survey showed there are people of all ages who take sleeping pills, the survey showed that they needn’t.

42% of the people who take sleeping pills have had sleep problems for over 11 years or more.  17% have had sleep problems for between 6-10 years and 22% for 3-5 years.

What can be presumed from this is that sleeping pills are not effective in the treatment of sleep disorders and based on NICE guidelines many people who are prescribed them shouldn’t be on them.

Results also show those who take sleeping pills are not as healthy as those who don’t; they tend to suffer from poor general wellbeing and experience greater feelings of helplessness, loneliness and a sense of being out of control.

85% more likely to feel helplessness

74% more likely to feel alone

49% more likely to feel their sleep is out of control

These results show that there is need for alternative sleep solutions to be made more available to the general public; ideally evidence based but not entirely. Recommended drug free.

So how can acupuncture help?

In some respects there is a great ‘missing the point’ when it comes to traditional Chinese medicine and acupuncture.  With an average of 2.3 million acupuncture treatments carried out each year, traditional acupuncture is one of the most popular alternative/complementary treatments practised in the UK.  Yet statistics show that 1 in 5 of us would only consider acupuncture for sleep problems as a last resort.

Instead of acupuncture being considered the last resort it should really be considered as one the first strategies to help with sleep problems.  As a treatment it is completely drug free and not only does acupuncture affect the physical aspects of sleep problems but also the psychological, emotional and mental aspects of sleep disorders.

This is because acupuncture at its simplest is known to stimulate the central nervous system enabling the release of neurochemicals which result in biochemical changes in the body thus promoting both physical and emotional wellbeing.  Stimulation of certain acupuncture points affect areas of the brain which are known to reduce sensitivity to pain and stress as well as promoting relaxation and deactivating the ‘analytical brain’ which is responsible for the anxiety and ‘racing mind’ issues identified in the Great British Sleep Survey.

Evidence based research shows acupuncture to be effective in the treatment of sleep disorders. Other research has shown that acupuncture (or acupressure related procedures for example the acUtreat ear seed kits) to be significantly more effective than hypnotic drugs or no treatment.

Research has shown that acupuncture treatment may specifically be of benefit in people with insomnia by:

  • increasing nocturnal endogenous melatonin secretion (Spence et al 2004).
  • stimulating opioid (especially b-endorphin) production and µ-opioid receptor activity (Cheng et al 2009).
  • increasing nitric oxide synthase activity and nitric oxide content, helping to promote normal function of brain tissues, which could help to regulate sleep (Gao et al 2007).
  • increasing cerebral blood flow (Yan 2010)
  • reducing sympathetic nervous system activity, hence increasing relaxation (Lee 2009a)
  • regulating levels of neurotransmitters (or their modulators) such as serotonin, noradrenaline, dopamine, GABA and neuropeptide Y; hence altering the brains’s mood chemistry to help to increase relaxation and reduce tension (Lee 2009b; Samuels 2008; Zhou 2008).

Acupuncture can be safely combined with conventional medical treatments for sleep problems, such as benzodiazepines, helping to reduce their side effects and enhance their beneficial effects (Cao et al 2009).

Based on this kind of evidence which shows acupuncture to be as effective as existing conventional drugs but without their side effects, it should be considered as one the main therapeutic options in the treatment of sleep problems instead of one the last!

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