This summer I saw a cousin of mine who lives in San Francisco. He was using acupuncture for insomnia and happy with the results.
I’ve always wondered about acupuncture as a potential treatment for insomnia, so now and then I check the literature. Here’s a summary of recent thinking about it.
My insomniac nights are rare these days—but I had one last week. Nearing bedtime, it felt like a train was running through my body with the horn at full blast.
The mechanisms underlying hyperarousal are still unknown. But according to a study recently published in the journal PNAS, it may be linked to fragmented REM sleep and unresolved emotional distress. Here’s more:
Hyperarousal is a term I mention when people want a quick explanation for what’s behind insomnia. The word seems to resonate. Think of hyper- as in “excessive” or “extreme”; arousal, meaning “activation” or “animation.” Or plain old hyper, meaning “very excited, nervous, or active.”
“Hyperarousal” is a pretty good way to describe the feeling of insomnia at night. But is there a test for it? Does it happen only at night, or do insomniacs experience hyperarousal 24/7?
Do you tend to dwell on upsetting thoughts? Does your arousal thermostat feel like it’s set too high, making it hard for your body to relax and fall or stay asleep? Insomnia is often described as a disorder of hyperarousal, yet how and why the hyperarousal develops is unclear.
Now a team of 13 sleep scientists from three countries have taken findings from different lines of research, conducted a study of their own, and come up with a plausible explanation for why our minds and bodies feel like they’re stuck in overdrive and just can’t stop. Here’s what may lie behind our trouble falling and staying asleep.
It used to be that the only predictable thing about my insomnia was that it occurred at times of high drama. Anticipation of a trip to the Canary Islands? Nothing like a little excitement to keep me awake at night. Difficulties with a colleague at work? Stress, too, was a set-up for trouble sleeping. Whenever my life got the least bit interesting or challenging, sleep went south.
But sleep is easier to manage now that I’m able to see more patterns in my insomnia and the insomnia of others.
“I feel very anxious at night,” a reader recently wrote. “I tell myself that there is no reason to be anxious, but it feels almost physical. And it doesn’t matter what I do (meditation, relaxation), I still can’t sleep.”
Insomnia, many of us are told, is mainly a psychological problem. So the physical sensations that accompany it can be unnerving: the fluttering heartbeat, the muscle tension, the racing feeling radiating from torso to extremities, the overheating, the sweaty skin. Yet these sensations should tip us off that insomnia is not just in the head.
Lots of factors can push you in the direction of persistent insomnia: chronic stress, rumination and worry, and too much time in bed, to name a few.
Another factor that increases your susceptibility to insomnia is physiologic “hyperarousal,” sleep experts say.