Electric acupuncture helps insomnia

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January 24, 2008  
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sishenchongCM NEWS – Using electric acupuncture to needle 4 “extraordinary” acupoints on the top of the head might have impressive effect on treating insomnia, a recent study indicates.

Researchers at the Shandong Provincial Hospital in China evaluated the clinical therapeutic effect of electric acupuncture at a set of 4 acupoints Sishencong (EX-HN 1, “Four Brightening Spirits”, ???) on insomnia.

What is electric acupuncture? Electric acupuncture, the application of a pulsating electrical current to acupuncture needles as a means of stimulating the acupoints, was developed in China as an extension of hand manipulation of acupuncture needles around 1934.

The procedure for electric acupuncture is to insert the acupuncture needle as would normally be done, attain the qi reaction by hand manipulation, and then attach an electrode to the needle to provide continued stimulation. The benefits of using electrical stimulation are:

  1. It substitutes for prolonged hand maneuvering. This helps assure that the patient gets the amount of stimulation needed, because the practitioner may otherwise pause due to fatigue. Electric acupuncture may also help reduce total treatment time by providing the continued stimulus. During electric acupuncture, the practitioner can attend to other patients.
  2. It can produce a stronger stimulation, if desired, without causing tissue damage associated with twirling and lifting and thrusting the needle. Strong stimulation may be needed for difficult cases of neuralgia or paralysis.
  3. It is easier to control the frequency of the stimulus and the amount of stimulus than with hand manipulation of the needles.

electric acupuncture penIn this study, 276 patients were randomly assigned to 2 groups, 138 in each group. The treatment group received electric acupuncture at Sishencong, and the control group with oral administration of Tianmeng Capsule (????, or “Sweet Dream Capsule”, which is a all herb product for treating mild insomnia).

The treatment course for both groups was 3 weeks. The quality and related parameters of sleep before and after treatment were evaluated with a multi-channel sleep detector. The results showed that quality of sleep was improved in both groups after treatment.

What are Sishencong acupoints? Sishencong are the four points located one inch respectively lateral, anterior and posterior to Baihui (GV 20). Sishencong belongs to extraordinary acupoints (????) located at the central crossing points of the vertex, the front and the back points are located on the track of Dumai (Du meridian, ??) and the left and right points are near the track of Bladder Meridian.

Literature shows that mild acupuncture stimulation of Sishencong has been used to treat tension insomnia.

Traditionally, Sishencong was used to treat headache, dizziness, insomnia, forgetfulness and other anxiety related conditions. In modern applications, Sishencong is related to treatments of vascular headaches, cerebrovascular diseases, hypertension, hyperactivity, vascular dementia etc.

However, the improvement in the electric acupuncture group was superior to that in the control group. The researchers suggest that needling Sishencong with electric acupuncture has obvious effect on insomnia.

Possible explanations

One study on the effect of needling Sishencong on mice shows that the acupuncture significantly increase nitric oxide synthase (NOS) activity and nitric oxide (NO) content in the brain. A growing body of evidence suggests that nitric oxide (NO) may play a role in the circadian and homeostatic processes of sleep regulation

In another study by a group of Taiwanese researchers revealed that the sensitivity of spontaneous barorecepor reflex was improved by acupuncture at Sishencong points.

What is baroreflex? In cardiovascular physiology, the baroreflex or baroreceptor reflex is one of the body’s homeostatic mechanisms for maintaining blood pressure. It provides a negative feedback loop in which an elevated blood pressure reflexively causes blood pressure to decrease; similarly, decreased blood pressure depresses the baroreflex, causing blood pressure to rise.

Sishencong acupuncture might be able to simultaneously enhance cardiac vagal activity and suppress cardiac and vascular sympathetic activities in humans. It also augments the sensitivity of baroreflex. The result can explain the therapeutic mechanism on tension insomnia by acupuncture at Sishencong points.

[Zhongguo Zhong Xi Yi Jie He Za Zhi. 2007 Nov;27(11):1030-2 (Article in Chinese)]

More readings:
Electric theories on acupuncture (BBC)