Taking the hormone melatonin 30 minutes before bedtime can help prevent migraines. That’s because headaches may be related to disturbances in our biorhythms, and melatonin can help regulate our sleep-wake cycles. Melatonin taken nightly for 1-3 months reduces the frequency, intensity and duration of migraines that may occur, but melatonin cannot treat migraines that have already started. In Chinese medicine a propensity for migraines usually signals a pattern of excess and deficiency where the Qi (“chee”) or energy of the body is hyperactive and shoots upward instead of flowing smoothly. Our treatment focuses on subduing the Qi, and tonifying and regulating the blood in the channels that flow to the head. Acupuncture also relaxes muscle tension in the shoulders and neck and relieves spasms by increasing circulation throughout the body.
A study funded by the Army and the National Institutes of Health helps explain how acupuncture eases chronic pain. Using brain imaging, the study showed that acupuncture increases the availability of receptors in the brain that process and weaken pain signals. Moreover, acupuncture treatments – in this case twice a week for four weeks – affect both the brain’s short- and long-term ability to reduce pain sensation. A beneficial implication of this research – published in 2009 by the University of Michigan Chronic Pain & Fatigue Research Center – is that patients treated with acupuncture might be more responsive to pain medications like codeine and Vicodin.
Other studies have shown that acupuncture triggers a variety of physiological responses, such as:
✔ Stimulating the immune system and increasing white blood cells, which defend the body against infection ✔ Decreasing cholesterol and triglycerides ✔ Regulating blood sugar metabolism, which helps the body use energy more efficiently ✔ Increasing blood circulation and producing beneficial changes in blood pressure ✔ Increasing stomach peristaltic activity and regulating digestive fluids, thereby improving digestion ✔ Regulating and stimulating serotonin, a neurotransmitter that is directly related to sleep, appetite, and mood
Curious about acupuncture but just can't seem to schedule that first appointment? AcuTake, an online publication created to improve acupuncture education and access, has written an informative article that lists (and debunks) these top five excuses that some newbies to acupuncture give for avoiding treatment.
Afraid of needles? Think the sessions are too expensive? Can't find the time, don't know who to go to, or don't "believe" in it? Read their article to get the full scoop on why these five excuses just aren't good enough anymore!
Acupuncture is great for pain relief, restful sleep, good digestion, better immunity and more. So go ahead and schedule a session — next thing you know you'll be encouraging your co-workers, friends and family members to jump on the acupuncture bandwagon.
Did you know that the most common symptom of stress is insomnia? Did you also know that people who sleep fewer than seven hours a night are three times more likely to get a cold? By sleeping longer and more deeply we can protect our health. But how do you do this if you suffer from insomnia? Sleep therapists long ago developed “sleep hygiene," also known as good sleep habits. I've adapted the rules of sleep hygiene into the following eight simple steps to help you get better ZZZZ’s:
(1) Sleep in a cooler room. As night falls and body temperature drops, the brain slows down and drowsiness sets in. Turning down the thermostat can facilitate that.
(2) Make your room completely dark. Cover up all LED lights (even tiny ones) on alarm clocks and any other electronic equipment. If it’s still not dark enough, buy some classic eyeshades available at most drugstores. Darkness causes the body to produce more melatonin, the hormone that signals the body to sleep. Even small amounts of light decrease melatonin production and signal the body to awaken. And don’t fall asleep to the TV or iPad screen (too stimulating); even better, move all gadgets out of the bedroom.
(3) Get a saliva test to check cortisol levels. Even a little bit of lost sleep can cause your stress hormone levels to rise the next night, increasing the likelihood of chronic insomnia. (If you'd like a cortisol test, I can order one for you — please contact me).
(4) Go to bed and wake up around the same time every day, even on weekends.
(5) Avoid alcohol and heavy meals at least 3 hours before bedtime.
(6) Exercise regularly but not within 2 hours of retiring. It may take 2-4 months of regular exercise for you to start sleeping longer and more deeply, and better sleep will then help your exercise routines. (See "How Exercise Can Help Us Sleep Better", NYTimes, 8/21/13.)
(7) Establish a pre-sleep ritual such as a bath, meditation or reading.
(8) Avoid sleeping pills. The so-called Z drugs (Ambien, Sonata and Lunesta) only increase total sleep time by 28 minutes compared to a placebo, according to a 2005 NIH study. They may be habit-forming, cause next-day drowsiness and memory loss, and mask the fact that your underlying cause of sleeplessness could be depression, anxiey or simply poor sleep hygiene.
Of course, acupuncture is well-known as a beneficial treatment for short- and long-term insomnia, and Chinese herbs such as suan zao ren (Zizyphus) are natural and safe alternatives to prescription sleeping pills.
Does your child get sick a lot or complain of stomachaches? Perhaps an older child has migraines or trouble sleeping? If so they may benefit from acupuncture. A new study published in the journal Pediatrics finds acupuncture safe for children. Already in the U.S. about 150,000 kids are receiving acupuncture for chronic pain and other issues. Acupuncture for children differs from that for adults in that the needles are left in for shorter periods — if at all. In babies and toddlers, the acupuncturist may insert and withdraw the needle in one move. The study reports that side effects are nearly non-existent in the hands of a trained and licensed acupuncturist. Read more about it at The New York Times.
Chinese herbal medicine formulated especially for children may be combined with acupuncture for a stronger effect. At my office on Larchmont in Los Angeles, our pharmacy stocks many excellent pediatric formulas called Gentle Warriors, from Kan Herb Company.
Corydalis, or yan hu suo, is to the Chinese what aspirin is to Westerners. This potent painkiller is widely used for all types of pain, especially headaches and menstrual cramps. It is particularly beneficial for people who cannot take aspirin or other pain medications due to ulcers or stomach upset. Studies show that it works especially well when combined with acupuncture. Powdered corydalis is one of the strongest analgesic herbs out there and its effectiveness has been compared with morphine and codeine (it is approximately 1% the strength of opium). Because of this it also can be used to reduce anxiety and stress and promote sound sleep. Unlike morphine, yan hu suo has no side effects, a slower development of tolerance, and is non-addictive. Still, pregnant and nursing women should avoid it.
Excellent corydalis formulas are available by prescription from a licensed acupuncturist.