New research discovers that acupuncture is effective for improving sleep quality and emotional issues for patients with schizophrenia. The researchers note that acupuncture effectively relieved both depression and anxiety levels in measures of psychopathology and emotional improvements. As a result, the investigators concluded “that acupuncture has beneficial effects as a treatment for insomnia and psychopathology symptoms among patients with schizophrenia.”
This recent study emerged as a joint effort between four prestigious Israeli institutions: Emek Medical Center, Israel Institute of Technology, Yezreel Academic College, Mazra Mental Health Center. The investigators note that acupuncture “is one of the oldest healing practices in the world” and “is considered to be safe and effective….” They cited prior research showing acupuncture’s positive influence in the treatment of depression, chronic pain and sleep disorders. This prompted this most recent investigation.
The subjects in the study suffered from schizophrenia with sleep disorders. They were treated with acupuncture at a rate of 2 times per week for a grand total of 16 acupuncture treatments. During the treatment process, sleep patterns were monitored with a wrist actigraph. An actigraph is a non-invasive method for monitoring human rest and activity cycles. It is useful in determining circadian rhythms and overall sleep patterns. This is an example of how wrist worn health technologies such as glucose monitoring devices, heart rate monitors, HRV monitors and actigraphs are helping patients and doctors. As an interesting aside, Apple Inc. is developing an iWatch wrist worn device that may include some or all of these technologies. For this study, the actigraph was a Mini Motionlogger made by Ambulatory Monitoring, Inc. out of Ardsley, New York.
Standard Chinese style acupuncture needles were used: 0.15mm X 0.18mm, 0.22mm X 0.30mm, 0.25mm X 0.40mm. Acupuncture treatment periods were 30 minutes in duration and the size of the needles were determined by guidelines set in the textbook Manual of Acupuncture. Notably, Manual of Acupuncture is a well-respected standard within the acupuncture community and has a special iPhone/iPad version available that includes video acupuncture point location techniques. Another interesting approach in this study is that the researchers employed only licensed acupuncturists to perform the differential diagnosis and application of the acupuncture needles. Acupuncture points were then chosen based on individual differential diagnostics within the Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) system. By contrast, many other studies often investigate a common, single acupuncture point or acupuncture point prescription. However, this study emulates what a patient may experience in real terms when receiving a treatment at an acupuncture clinic.
A rigorous statistical analysis was then applied to the data from the test subjects. Sleep improved significantly for the test subjects with objective measures. These improvements included a decrease in the longest wake periods, total minutes of wake episodes, the total number of wake episodes, wake time after sleep onset and sleep onset latency.
The researchers noted that acupuncture “made patients fall asleep faster.” They also noted that acupuncture improved overall sleep and that there was “less wake time during sleep and reduced activity level during sleep.” The sleep percentage improved so significantly that the test subjects “no longer met the criterion for insomnia” following their acupuncture treatments. Additionally, emotional measures improved. Anxiety and depression reduced significantly for the test subjects.
The researchers note that schizophrenia affects emotions, behavior, thought processes and perception. Its two main affects are positive symptoms and negative symptoms. Positive symptoms include delusions and hallucinations. Negative symptoms include apathy, flat affect and lack of functioning. It is considered debilitating, complex and only partially controllable with biomedicine and conventional therapy. The investigators note that acupuncture has shown an ability to help these patients by benefitting sleep and reducing anxiety and depression. They note that this may be due to acupuncture’s ability to increase the release of pituitary beta-endorphins, ACTH, serotonin and noradrenaline in humans.