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  • Writer's picturePhilip Niño Tan-Gatue

Acupuncture For Sleep Deprivation

Spleen 6 Sanyinjiao

Spleen 6 Sanyinjiao is traditionally known for genitourinary and menstrual disorders.  However, one of it’s less popular functions is to tonify the Blood.  This can be deduced from the fact that the point is a crossing point for three meridians related to organs traditionally associated with Blood: the Spleen, the Liver, and the Kidneys.  While other points such as BL 17 Geshu and SP 10 Xuehai are more intimately related to Blood, I find SP 6 useful for Blood deficiencies in particular.

Blood and Sleep

In Traditional Chinese Medicine, there can be many etiologies for a particular disease.  For insomnia, there may be excesses like what we would term Phlegm-Fire Agitating the Heart.  There can also be deficiencies such as Blood Deficiency.  In TCM, Blood is said to House the Mind.  Therefore, if Blood is deficient, it is akin to the Mind being housed in a less than ideal environment.  In addition to symptoms such as light headedness and poor memory, it leads to poor sleep.  Imagine trying to sleep on a rough floor with the temperature either too warm or too cold – how will the mind get some rest?

Image courtesy of marin /"

Image courtesy of marin /

Acupuncture for Sleep Deprived Patients

This entry takes a look at a study published last month.  It is entitled “Differential activation patterns of FMRI in sleep-deprived brain: restoring effects of acupuncture.”  (link) Now, what do we mean by insomnia recovery?  We are not just looking to improve sleep, but to reduce the effects of patients who are chronically sleep deprived.  Being a medical doctor who had gone through many sleepless nights during my medical education, both in front of the books and in front of the patients, I welcome any chance to undo the damage caused by such all-nighters.

Webmd lists the following effects of sleep deprivation.  For brevity, I only quoted the main lists.  Feel free to click the link to the article itself for details. (link)

1. Sleepiness Causes Accidents 2. Sleep Loss Dumbs You Down 3. Sleep Deprivation Can Lead to Serious Health Problems Sleep disorders and chronic sleep loss can put you at risk for:
  1. Heart disease

  2. Heart attack

  3. Heart failure

  4. Irregular heartbeat

  5. High blood pressure

  6. Stroke

  7. Diabetes 4. Lack of Sleep Kills Sex Drive 5. Sleepiness Is Depressing 6. Lack of Sleep Ages Your Skin 7. Sleepiness Makes You Forgetful 8. Losing Sleep Can Make You Gain Weight 9. Lack of Sleep May Increase Risk of Death 10. Sleep Loss Impairs Judgment, Especially About Sleep

Hence, we can see that being sleep deprived has many mental effects.  So what can acupuncture do?

In the study, the scientists took volunteers and had the following plan.

SD). Sixteen healthy volunteers (8 males) were recruited and scheduled for three fMRI scanning procedures, one following the individual’s normal sleep and received acupuncture SP6 (NOR group) and the other two after 24 h of total SD with acupuncture on SP6 (SD group) or sham (Sham group).

What this means is that they used functional MRI to take a look at the volunteers’ brains.  To set a standard, they got the patients’ MRI after normal sleep.  That sets the control.  Then they got people to have a whole day – 24 hours – of no sleep at all.  For these two, they used SP 6 point.  The last group used sham acupuncture, just to compare again, what doing fake acupuncture does differently.

The results were as follows:

Acupuncture stimuli elicited significantly different activation patterns of three groups. In NOR group, the right superior temporal lobe, left inferior parietal lobule, and left postcentral gyrus were activated; in SD group, the anterior cingulate cortex, bilateral insula, left basal ganglia, and thalamus were significantly activated while, in Sham group, the bilateral thalamus and left cerebellum were activated.

What is interesting here is that acupuncture has different effects based on the situation.  Both the “normal” sleep group and the study group which was sleep deprived got acupuncture at the same point, yet the effects on the brain were different.  In the sham acupuncture group, there was a different effect again.  Again, we see a debunking of the idea that putting needles anywhere is just the same as putting needles in predefined acupoints.

The opinion of the authors was as follows:

Different activation patterns suggest a unique role of acupuncture on SP6 in remediation of SD. SP6 elicits greater and anatomically different activations than those of sham stimuli; that is, the salience network, a unique interoceptive autonomic circuit, may indicate the mechanism underlying acupuncture in restoring sleep deprivation.

Can’t get any more specific than that.


“10 Surprising Effects of Lack of Sleep.” WebMD. WebMD, n.d. Web. 16 July 2014.

Gao L, Zhang M, Gong H, Bai L, Dai XJ, Min Y, Zhou F. Differential activation patterns of FMRI in sleep-deprived brain: restoring effects of acupuncture. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2014;2014:465760. doi: 10.1155/2014/465760. Epub 2014 Jun 15. PubMed PMID: 25024729; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC4082872.

#insomnia #sanyinjiao #sleepdeprivation #spleen6

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