Acupuncture for insomnia

Although conventional non-pharmacological and pharmacological treatments for insomnia are effective in many people, alternative therapies such as acupuncture are widely practised. This review was conducted to examine the efficacy and safety of acupuncture in treating insomnia. Thirty-three randomised controlled trials were eligible for inclusion in the review, involving 2293 participants. We considered all studies to have a high risk of bias. They were diverse in the types of participants, acupuncture treatments and sleep outcome measures used, which limited our ability to draw reliable conclusions. Currently there is a lack of high-quality clinical evidence to inform us about the efficacy and safety of acupuncture.

Authors' conclusions: 

Due to poor methodological quality, high levels of heterogeneity and publication bias, the current evidence is not sufficiently rigorous to support or refute acupuncture for treating insomnia. Larger high-quality clinical trials are required.

Read the full abstract...

Although conventional non-pharmacological and pharmacological treatments for insomnia are effective in many people, alternative therapies such as acupuncture are widely practised. However, it remains unclear whether current evidence is rigorous enough to support acupuncture for the treatment of insomnia.


To determine the efficacy and safety of acupuncture for insomnia.

Search strategy: 

We searched the Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials (CENTRAL), MEDLINE, EMBASE, PsycINFO, Dissertation Abstracts International, CINAHL, AMED, the Traditional Chinese Medical Literature Analysis and Retrieval System (TCMLARS), the World Health Organization (WHO) Trials Portal (ICTRP) and relevant specialised registers of the Cochrane Collaboration in October 2011. We screened reference lists of all eligible reports and contacted trial authors and experts in the field.

Selection criteria: 

Randomised controlled trials evaluating any form of acupuncture for insomnia. They compared acupuncture with/without additional treatment against placebo or sham or no treatment or same additional treatment. We excluded trials that compared different acupuncture methods or acupuncture against other treatments.

Data collection and analysis: 

Two review authors independently extracted data and assessed risk of bias. We used odds ratio (OR) and mean difference for binary and continuous outcomes respectively. We combined data in meta-analyses where appropriate.

Main results: 

Thirty-three trials were included. They recruited 2293 participants with insomnia, aged 15 to 98 years, some with medical conditions contributing to insomnia (stroke, end-stage renal disease, perimenopause, pregnancy, psychiatric diseases). They evaluated needle acupuncture, electroacupuncture, acupressure or magnetic acupressure.

Compared with no treatment (two studies, 280 participants) or sham/placebo (two studies, 112 participants), acupressure resulted in more people with improvement in sleep quality (compared to no treatment: OR 13.08, 95% confidence interval (CI) 1.79 to 95.59; compared to sham/placebo: OR 6.62, 95% CI 1.78 to 24.55). However, when assuming that dropouts had a worse outcome in sensitivity analysis the beneficial effect of acupuncture was inconclusive. Compared with other treatment alone, acupuncture as an adjunct to other treatment might marginally increase the proportion of people with improved sleep quality (13 studies, 883 participants, OR 3.08, 95% CI 1.93 to 4.90). On subgroup analysis, only needle acupuncture but not electroacupuncture showed benefits. All trials had high risk of bias and were heterogeneous in the definition of insomnia, participant characteristics, acupoints and treatment regimen. The effect sizes were generally small with wide confidence intervals. Publication bias was likely present. Adverse effects were rarely reported and they were minor.