Background. Acupuncture therapy, commonly used in clinical practice in oriental cultures, has the potential to produce a positive effect with patients experiencing insomnia.
Aim. The purposes of this systematic review were: (1) to assess the trends across intervention studies using acupuncture for insomnia from 1975 to 2002, (2) to examine dependent variables, and (3) to evaluate the effects of acupuncture therapy on insomnia in older people.
Method. Data were collected from November 2001 to January 2003. A wide range of electronic databases was searched using the keywords ‘insomnia’, ‘acupuncture’ and ‘experimental design’. Papers were included if they were published in the English language between 1975 and 2002 and described an experimental study using acupuncture therapy to treat insomnia. Eleven reports met these criteria.
Findings. Most of the studies had been conducted since 1990. The findings showed that the first author was usually a Chinese medical doctor (n = 9) employed in a traditional department of medicine. Most of the papers were published in two journals: International Journal of Clinical Acupuncture and Journal of Traditional Chinese Medicine. Data were limited because of the small number of studies available. Half the studies had small samples (50 subjects or fewer), which were composed mainly of older women who had a variable duration of insomnia from 3 days to 34 years. The main method used to assess outcomes was questionnaire. All the studies reported statistically significant positive results.
Conclusion. The results of this review suggest that acupuncture may be an effective intervention for the relief of insomnia. Further research, using a randomized clinical trial design, are necessary to determine the effectiveness of acupuncture. More work is also needed to promote the long-term therapeutic effects of acupuncture and to compare it with other therapies for insomnia.