I’m floating through the air. It feels effortless, like I’m being propelled by something other than myself. Everything is weightless and drama-free.
Only, I’m not really flying. I’m actually face-down on an acupuncture table, with needles stuck in pressure points along my body, in the midst of a truly blissful nap. I’ve been coming to acupuncture for more than a year now to help manage neck and back pain, and I zonk out like this almost every time.
After my first few sessions, I wondered if I was somehow missing out on part of the experience (or ticking off my acupuncturist) by drifting off. But now? I’m hooked on the ZZZs, and apparently I’m not alone.
Here’s why epic naps are the best-kept secret among acupuncture enthusiasts.
The acupuncture-nap connection
Snoozing with needles in your body sounds counterintuitive, but according to Eva Zeller, a licensed acupuncturist who co-runs the Philadelphia-based Acupuncture Off Broad, it’s actually a common side effect of the Traditional Chinese Medicine practice.
Why? For one thing, the environment is relaxing, whether you’re partaking in a private session or visiting a community acupuncture studio. The temperature’s generally warm, the lights are dim, and the music’s soothing. Hello, dreamland!
But the treatment itself also has sleep-inducing effects. “We choose specific acupuncture points that allow your body to heal and self-regulate,” says Noah Rubinstein, doctor of Chinese medicine and clinic director of The YinOva Center in New York City. Once the body settles into that balanced state, deep relaxation—yes, to the point of falling asleep—is almost inevitable.
And many people share my experience of having intense mid-acupuncture dreams, Zeller says. In fact, she believes it’s possible to experience deep, REM sleep in a relatively brief session. The practice also helps lower cortisol levels, a stress hormone. “Acupuncture helps turn off all of the alarm bells for a little while, which reminds your mind and body, ‘Oh, this is what it feels like not to be in emergency mode,'” she explains.
A remedy for nighttime sleep issues?
For some acupuncture fans like myself, catching a few winks is simply a happy bonus. But others go specifically to try and address major sleep problems, like insomnia. (Studies definitely show some promise in this area.)
“Through Chinese medicine, we are able to locate the reason for losing sleep and treat the deeper, more rooted cause of the restlessness,” Rubinstein says.
Acupuncturists assess whether the issue is falling asleep or staying asleep (or both) and ask about other factors like diet, medications, pain, and stress and the role they might be playing. From there, they create a personalized treatment plan that emphasizes balance, so clients have plenty of energy when they’re awake, but are able to dial it down when it’s time for bed, Rubenstein says.
All of which is a good thing, because sleep is so fundamental to wellness. “It’s how we recharge and replenish,” says Zeller.
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