There is a strong link between depression and insomnia. One study found that as many as 70% of individuals with depression had symptoms of insomnia and sleep disorders are one of the diagnostic criteria for depression.
Unfortunately, antidepressant drugs can come with a number of side-effects such as:
Is there a natural alternative to antidepressants?
Previous studies have found that antidepressants combined with acupuncture can be more effective than antidepressants alone. Other studies have found acupuncture to be effective when it comes to improving sleep quality, increasing sleep duration, and reducing the amount of time taken to fall asleep when compared to receiving no treatment.
Research published in BioMed Research International set out to determine the effectiveness of acupuncture when it comes to treating depression-related insomnia.
Researchers carried out a systematic review and meta-analysis using data from 18 randomized controlled trials of acupuncture as a treatment tool for insomnia associated with depression. These trials included a total of 1,678 participants between the ages of 18 and 75 years old.
Acupuncture vs antidepressants
10 studies assessed the effectiveness of acupuncture compared to medication. Seven of them found acupuncture to be more effective at medication when it came to improving insomnia symptoms as measured by the Pittsburgh Sleep Quality Index. In the remaining three studies, there was no significant difference between the two groups.
As stated by the authors of this review, this indicates that acupuncture treatment was more effective at improving insomnia symptoms than medication.
Acupuncture with antidepressants vs antidepressants alone
Four studies compared the effectiveness of acupuncture combined with medication and medication alone. Three showed acupuncture combined with medication to be more effective at improving insomnia symptoms than medication alone. The remaining study found no significant difference between the two groups.
The effect of acupuncture on depression symptoms
Six studies used the Hamilton Rating Scale for Depression (HRSD) to assess the effectiveness of acupuncture. Four of them found acupuncture to be more effective than medication, one found the control group to be more effective than the acupuncture group and the other found no difference between acupuncture and the control group.
Three studies looked at the effectiveness of acupuncture with medication versus medication alone, using the HRSD measure. All three found that acupuncture combined with medicine was more effective at improving depression symptoms compared to medication alone.
So can acupuncture treat depression-related insomnia?
This review found that compared to medication, acupuncture treatment was effective when it came to improving depression-related insomnia and the severity of depression symptoms. However, when compared to acupuncture placebo groups, there was no significant difference.
As the authors of the review pointed out, the studies they investigated had a large range of treatment duration (from 18 days to three months), the diagnostic criteria were not all the same and there did appear to be some publication bias.
With that being said, this review did find that acupuncture can be an effective treatment for depression-related insomnia. Acupuncture was found to be more effective at reducing insomnia symptoms compared to conventional Western medicine and significantly more effective at reducing symptoms of insomnia and depression when combined with medication compared to medication alone.