Sleep Apnea & Hypopnea

Sleep apnea is a condition that is most common in people who are overweight but can occur in others. Other causes include anatomical defects, tonsillitis, weak respiratory muscles, use of sleeping pills, smoking, and alcohol abuse.

Most people who have sleep apnea are not aware that they have it until someone else notices. While you are asleep the airway to the lungs can partially collapse causing very shallow or paused breathing. It results in poor quality sleep as you continually move from deep to light sleep in order to breathe properly.

Apnea refers to the complete pausing of breath, while a milder variation, hypopnea, refers to more shallow breathing. If you have hypopnea you would get enough sleep but not feel rested because you have not gotten enough of the right kind of sleep.

If you have sleep apnea you may unknowingly experience inadequate oxygen intake as much as 100s of times a night. This increases the risk of other health concerns such as high blood pressure, stroke, heart problems, headaches and more.

Conventional Treatment

The conventional treatment for sleep apnea is to provide "continuous positive airway pressure' to the sleeping person using a small machine. Many people do not tolerate this interference, finding it uncomfortable and disruptive, even though it is effective in providing needed oxygen and keeping the airway from collapsing.

In some causes surgery can correct defective structural elements that cause the problem.

Acupuncture for Sleep Apnea

Acupuncture treatment, on the other hand, does not interfere with sleeping comfort and is very effective. One study of 40 patients with sleep apnea found that acupuncture reduced both the apnea symptoms and the number of times the patient woke at night having paused breathing.1

There have been a number of small clinical research studies done on the effectiveness of acupuncture in treating sleep apnea. Most of those studies were very small and not, by themselves, statistically significant. However, in 2016 a meta-analysis was done that did show statistical significance.

A meta-analysis is, essentially, a study of studies. That means that researchers identify studies which meet certain standards and then combine their results to get an average which is statistically significant.

Using a computer-assisted method, researchers looked at the results of of small studies which involved a total of over 360 patients. They determined that, compared with control groups who did not receive acupuncture, manual acupuncture was very effective in the improvement of sleep apnea/ hypopnea symptoms. In addition, electroacupuncture was effective in treating apnea symptoms, and less effective in treating hypopnea symptoms.2

In addition the oxygen content of blood improved in patients who received acupuncture. This means that they were taking in the proper amount oxygen while sleeping.2

Why does it work?

Acupuncture helps sleep apnea by stimulating the muscles in the upper respiratory area which may tend to collapse when you are asleep. The muscles of the body are associated with energy meridians which ensure smooth functioning. If energy meridians are blocked than the relevant aspect of the body malfunctions and/or falls out of balance.

Energy meridians support the muscles of the respiratory system too. Once acupuncture is applied to unblock the flow of every through them, the body is able to again support normal breathing while asleep.

Traditional Chinese medicine identifies all health conditions as being dependent upon smooth flowing energy in the body. Therefore, unblocking the meridians that effect health in general as well as breathing-related meridians is an important part of acupuncture treatment.


There are a number of other things you can do to lessen the symptoms of sleep apnea.

  • If you are overweight, losing at least 10% of your weight is the minimum to improve your condition
  • Avoid eating large meals within three hours of bedtime
  • Stop smoking
  • Don't take alcohol within three hours of bedtime
  • Get regular exercise.
  • Keep the temperature in your bedroom cool.

1. A.O. Freire, G.C. Sugai, et al, Immediate effect of acupuncture on the sleep pattern of patients with obstructive sleep apnoea, Acupuncture Medicine, September 2010.
2. Z.T. Lv, W.X. Jiang, et al, The Clinical Effect of Acupuncture in the Treatment of Obstructive Sleep Apnea: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Randomized Controlled Trials, Evidence Based Complementary Alternative Medicine, April, 2016.