Electroacupuncture as a treatment for depression-related insomnia


Published September 2022

By Lauren DeSouza- Master of Public Health, Simon Fraser Public Research University – Canada
This article is reproduced herein with permission of the copyright holder.

© CopyrightSUD RECOVERY CENTERS – A Division of Genesis Behavioral Services, Inc., Milwaukee, Wisconsin – September 2022 – All rights reserved.

Acupuncture is a form of traditional Chinese medicine that has been used to treat depressive disorders and sleep disturbances for thousands of years. Recently, researchers have begun investigating acupuncture as a potential drug-free approach to help treat mental health disorders and sleep issues. A previous study found that acupuncture improved sleep quality and increased total sleep time among patients with insomnia. However, we do not yet know if acupuncture is effective to treat those who have both mental health disorders and sleep disorders concurrently. 

A new large-scale clinical trial conducted in China investigated the effectiveness of using a form of acupuncture, electroacupuncture, to treat insomnia among patients with depression. Electroacupuncture is a modern form of acupuncture that uses electricity to enhance the benefits of this traditional therapy.

How did this study work? 

This study specifically looked at patients with depression who also suffered from insomnia. The researchers were interested in seeing whether electroacupuncture was a safe and effective treatment for patients with comorbid mental health and sleep disorders.  

This study was a randomized clinical trial that compared groups of patients receiving the target intervention, electroacupuncture, with sham acupuncture and with standard care (no intervention). Standard care included guidance from a doctor to get regular exercise, eat a healthy diet, and manage their stress levels during the trial, as well as continuing to take any prescribed medications for sleep or depression.

This was the longest study to date to look at acupuncture to treat insomnia. Patients received electroacupuncture three times a week for eight weeks, for a total of 24 sessions. This was followed by a 24-week observational period to see how long the benefits of treatment would last, for a total study duration of 32 weeks.

The acupuncture administered in this study targeted the Governor vessel. According to the researchers, the Governor vessel “governs all yang meridians and helps regulate the balance of yin-yang in the body, which is closely related to brain functions”.  Targeting this vessel can help to calm nerves and relax patients, improving their symptoms of depression. 

What were the results?

Patients who received electroacupuncture experienced significant improvements to their sleep. Their sleep quality improved, they slept for longer, and they woke up fewer times during the night. These improvements persisted for the duration of the study, meaning that the effects of the acupuncture lasted for weeks after it had been administered. 

Electroacupuncture also helped to improve symptoms of mental health disorders. Patients experienced reductions in the severity of insomnia, symptoms of depression, and symptoms of anxiety.

With regard to safety, there were no severe adverse events reported during the trial. The researchers conclude that electroacupuncture may be a safe treatment for patients with comorbid depression and insomnia.


What are the key Takeaways?

  • Electroacupuncture is a safe and effective treatment to help patients with depression-related insomnia improve their quality of sleep.
  • The benefits of electroacupuncture on sleep quality continue for over 20 weeks after treatment.
  • Electroacupuncture can also help patients improve symptoms of depression and anxiety.


Yin X, Li W, Liang T, et al. Effect of Electroacupuncture on Insomnia in Patients With Depression: A Randomized Clinical Trial. JAMA Netw Open. 2022;5(7):e2220563.