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Sleep Apnea and Acupuncture

Effect of Acupuncture on Sleep Apnea

Being overweight or obese is one of the biggest risk factors, so when it comes to natural sleep apnea treatment weight loss, if necessary, is the first step. Acupuncture can help with weight loss. Acupuncture also helps with stress reduction and anxiety, which my also be risk factors. There are acupuncture points which focus on mucus reduction, and the whole treatment is designed to enhance the flow of energy in the body. This may improve the muscle tone of the back of the throat, which can prevent that area from collapsing.

Read more details about Acupuncture.

Research Evidence on Acupuncture

In a 2007 study on acupuncture and sleep apnea treatment, subjects were given acupuncture for half an hour a week for ten weeks, then compared to a control group receiving placebo acupuncture. Outcome was measured using

  • sleep studies (a.k.a polysomnography)
  • a survey on functional quality of life
  • a survey on daytime sleepiness.

The acupuncture points used in this study were those traditionally used for

  • general tonification of the body’s energy
  • somnolence
  • rhinitis
  • throat diseases

Compared with the placebo group, patients receiving acupuncture experienced a significant decrease in the number of respiratory events per night. Dimensions of the quality of life and daytime sleepiness surveys also improved compared with the control group.1

Safety Issues

Serious adverse effects associated with the use of acupuncture are rare. 1,2 The most commonly reported problems include short-term pain from needle insertion, tiredness, and minor bleeding. There is one report of infection caused by acupuncture given to a person with diabetes. 3 Some acupuncture points lie over the lungs and insertion to excessive depth could conceivably cause a pneumothorax (punctured lung). Because acupuncturists are trained to avoid this complication, it is a rare occurrence.

A recent report from China contained an example of another complication caused by excessively deep needling. 4 A 44-year-old man was needled on the back of the neck at a commonly used acupuncture point just below the bony protuberance at the base of the skull. However, the acupuncturist inserted the needle too deeply and punctured a blood vessel in the skull. The client developed a severe headache with nausea and vomiting; a CAT scan showed bleeding in the brain, and a spinal tap found a small amount of blood in the cerebrospinal fluid. The severe headache, along with neck stiffness, continued for 28 days. The man was treated with standard pain medication, and the condition resolved itself without any permanent effects.

Infection due to the use of unclean needles has been reported in the past, but the modern practice of using disposable sterile needles appears to have eliminated this risk.


  1. Ernst E, White AR. Prospective studies of the safety of acupuncture: a systematic review. Am J Med. 110(6):481-5.
  2. MacPherson H, Thomas K, Walters S, Fitter M. The York acupuncture safety study: prospective survey of 34 000 treatments by traditional acupuncturists. BMJ. 323(7311):486-7.
  3. Shah N, Hing C, Tucker K, Crawford R. Infected compartment syndrome after acupuncture. Acupunct Med. 20(2-3):105-6.
  4. Choo DCA, Yue G. Acute intracranial hemorrhage in the brain caused by acupuncture. Headache. 2000;40:397-398.

1Freire, Anaflavia et al. “Treatment of moderate obstructive sleep apnea syndrome with acupuncture: A randomised, placebo-controlled pilot trial,” Sleep Medicine 8, no 1 (Jan 2007): 43-50.

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