Unfortunately, evolution hasn’t yet provided for an “off” button for the human brain—and that can pose a real problem when it’s midnight and all the sheep-counting in the world won’t help you. But that’s not to say there’s no remedy for your frustrating nighttime wakefulness. In fact, acupressure, a ritual of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), uses pressure points for sleep, essentially functioning as an off button for the busy, sleepless mind.
“Used for thousands of years in Traditional Chinese Medicine, acupressure is a great DIY technique to promote stress relief and wellness from the comfort of your own home,” says Shari Auth, DACM, a doctor of acupuncture and co-founder of NYC-based acupuncture studio WTHN. “Just like acupuncture, acupressure stimulates points across the body that correspond to various ailments or conditions.”
In practice, acupressure involves pressing your fingers—rather than needles used in acupuncture—into certain spots along your skin to stimulate the acupoints that fall along meridians or “energy lines” of the body. “Each of these meridians contain certain ‘subway stops’ along the way, called acupuncture points,” says Stefanie Dilibero, MAc, LAc, acupuncturist and founder of Gotham Wellness in NYC (which is currently offering online services). “Each of these points has certain actions and effects that can be activated through stimulation.”
“Acupressure points can target the specific ways your body needs balance, and when you’re balanced specific to your conditions, you will sleep better.” —Stefanie Dilibero, acupuncturist
When acupuncturists say that acupressure can be used for a slew of discomforts, they mean it. Placing a finger on certain area can help mitigate chronic back pain, and even relieve headaches and PMS symptoms. And when called upon before bed, they can offer a calming effect of letting your nervous system know you’re safe and sound. “Sleep imbalances come from stress and a lack of being able to calm or soothe oneself,” says Dilibero. “People’s bodies and nervous systems are affected by stress in different physical manifestations. Acupressure points can be used as a way to target the specific ways in which your body needs balance, and when you are balanced in a way specific to your conditions, you will sleep better.”
Curious about how to use pressure points for sleep? Scroll down to find out.
How to use 8 pressure points for sleep, according to acupuncturists
As Dilibero alluded to above, not all acupressure points are directly related to sleep. Rather, many target obstacles in the way of sleep (think: stress, headaches, anxiety, or imbalanced hormones). So choose your pressure points for sleep from the below list, according to your personal situation.
1. Pericardium 6: For soothing anxiety and promoting a deeper sleep
“This point is famous for motion sickness, but it’s also great for calming anxiety and helping you sleep,” says Dr. Auth. “It’s located on the inside of the forearm, between the two ropey tendons—a couple of inches up from the wrist.”
How to target it: “Use your thumb to press into the point and breathe. Apply firm but comfortable pressure,” says Dr. Auth. “Move your thumb in a circular motion and take 10 deep breaths while you are applying pressure. Then switch and do the other wrist.”
2. ST 36: For nausea and stress
“This point is great for calming stress that appears as stomach distress, such as nausea, stomach pain, indigestion, and lack of appetite,” says Dilibero. If your fiber-packed dinner is keeping you up at night, this one’s for you.
How to target it: Sit, and cross your right foot over your left thigh, finding a comfortable figure-four position. “Hold your four fingers together, and measure the width of their distance down from the lower border of your kneecap. You will feel your shin bone. Move one finger’s-width laterally from the shin bone, and you’re there,” says Dilibero. “Massage firmly in a circular motion with two to four fingers for one minute. Repeat on the other leg.”
3. Kidney 1: For grounding and calm
If your mind is stuck in the future or the past, never fear: Kidney 1 is coming in clutch.
How to target it: “This point is found on the midline of the sole of the foot, one-third of the way down from your toes and two-thirds the way up from your heel—right where the arch of the foot begins,” says Dr. Auth. To find it, cross your foot over your opposite knee in a seated figure four, and use your thumb to apply a firm but comfortable amount of pressure. Push down, and move your thumb in a circular direction. Take 10 deep breaths while you are applying pressure, then switch and do the other foot.
4. Conception Vessel 17: For stress that arises in the chest area
“This point is excellent for calming bodily sensations of stress that reside in the chest area, like a sensation of heaviness, constriction or tightness, and shortness of breath,” says Dilibero.
How to target it: This point is located at the center of the breastbone, at the exact level of the nipples. “For one minute, gently massage this area with two fingers in a circular motion as you direct your breath toward this area. Repeat as needed,” says Dilibero.
5. Taiyang: For pre-bedtime headache relief
According to Dr. Auth, rubbing your temples to soothe a headache has long been practiced as part of TCM. “The temples are acupressure and acupuncture points collectively known as Taiyang and have been used to calm the mind for thousands of years. These points can also be used for tension headaches, a common symptom of a high-stress lifestyle,” she says.
How to target it: Place the pads of your index and middle fingers on your temples. Rub the point in a circular direction, slowly breathing in and out for ten deep breaths. Then rest your fingers in the center of your temples and hold the point for two more deep breaths. Release slowly.
6. Heart 7: For insomnia and uncontrollable emotions
Dilibero recommends this pressure point for sleep for people kept awake by emotional tsunamis.
How to target it: “With your palm turned up and fingers touching, draw a line from the center of the pinky finger tip to the base of the wrist, right where your palm and forearm meet. Gently press and hold this area with two fingers as you take five slow and deep breaths. Feel as though you are connecting your breath and energy through your fingertips, and into the point. Repeat on the other wrist,” she says.
7. Spleen 6: For balancing hormones and reducing stress
“This point balances hormone levels to calm the mind, so it’s great for stress, anxiety and insomnia,” says Dr. Auth. In fact, it’s so great, she says when she is able to work on clients, she uses it in about 90 percent of cases.
How to target it: Take a seat and place your ankle on top of the opposite knee. Spleen 6 is located about a palm’s distance, or or about three inches, above the inner ankle. Rub the area between the shin bone and the back of the calf taking 10 long, slow, deep breaths, then switch to the other side, and repeat daily, if possible.
8. Large intestine 4: For releasing upper body tension
“Commonly known as a headache point, Large Intestine 4 has so many uses and the more tight and sore it is, the more benefit it could bring you,” says Dr. Auth. “Large Intestine 4 is good for pain anywhere in the upper body, including the neck, shoulders, jaw, and head, so rub away. It’s also good for getting things moving, like your emotions and your digestion, so activate this point for stress or constipation.”
How to target it: Gently pinch the web between the index finger and thumb of your left hand with your right thumb and right index finger. Rotate the right thumb in a circular motion, applying just enough pressure to feel resistance without pain. As the resistance releases gradually, apply more pressure. Breath slow and deep as you do this, and then switch sides. Keep rubbing until you feel a release in the area.
Curious what it’s like to go to an acupuncture session? Watch the video below.
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