In the United States, what ails us is typically looked at by physicians who are able to diagnose our concerns and provide us with prescriptions to remedy our aches and pains.
Long before modern medicine and our understanding of its application in solving medical riddles and ailments, there were other ways of pinpointing specific areas on the body to elicit a response. The hope being that a positive reaction would bring resolution or a cure to the specific issue one was experiencing.
Acupressure is one modality that was developed by Chinese physicians thousands of years ago to address health problems. It is a noninvasive form of acupuncture therapy.
But before we delve into how to use acupressure to help improve your sleep quality it’s helpful to understand the basis for acupressure and how this modality can alleviate health-related problems, like sleep.
Acupressure has deep roots
Acupressure has historical roots that go back well over 5,000 years to both India and China. There's some debate over which region originated it first, but there is significant historical evidence corroborating the use of both acupressure and acupuncture therapy to help relax, treat disease, and champion wellness.
Considered one of the oldest medical treatments in history, there's evidence of acupuncture, in a book published around 300 B.C., The Nei Jin (Yellow Emperor's Classic of Internal Medicine). Nei Jin actually is comprised of two major sections: The Su Wen and the Ling Shu. While the Nei Jing tackles much of the internal medicine practices for physicians, it’s the Ling Shu that discusses acupuncture.
Acupressure & The Body
By western definitions, acupressure is considered an alternative form of medicine — much like that of acupuncture — that focuses on specific areas of the body and how energy flows through them. When we're talking about the energy, it’s how it moves through channels or “meridians” and the points that reside along these channels are the ones targeted for both acupressure and acupuncture.
It's interesting to consider the duality of these disciplines and where they've become common practices in the world. In the Western world, acupressure and acupuncture are considered alternative forms of medicine and preventative in nature. But, in the East, they're considered primary layers of medical treatment.
Harnessing Our Body’s Energy
As the theory goes, these channels are highways for the body's vital energy, also known in traditional Chinese culture as the "qi." These 12 meridians begin at the fingertips, chest, armpits, feet, and even on the face, and course throughout the body. Some connect to the brain, while others to specific body organs.
Acupressure and acupuncture are restorative techniques that are stimulated with pressure, or fine needles, that balance and restore vital energy of the body. Traditional Chinese medicine theory connects modern day ailments and illness with an imbalance of our energy, which can be addressed with acupressure or acupuncture.
The Body's 12 Meridians
There are 12 major meridians that traverse the entire body. Their pathways are similar to the body's circulatory system.
The first theory on the meridian pathways stem from centuries of observation by physicians who observed tender areas on the body during the course of illness. Symptoms were alleviated when these spots were pressed, essentially becoming the earliest indication of acupressure therapy.
Overtime, these points were categorized and linked to form groups that aligned with common characteristics of physical symptoms. This eventually led to the discovery of channel pathways that reflect elements of yin and yang theory.
Here are the most common ways that acupressure is administered:
- Locate the appropriate point.
- Use a steady and firm pressure, often with the index finger or thumb.
- While massaging the specific acupressure locations (known as acupoints), focus on relaxing in a comfortable position with the eyes closed while taking deep breaths.
- These points can be firmly held without movement, gently massaged or pressed, and stimulated several times to access and move the energy.
- Points on the body can be manipulated and massaged individually.
- Or, points can be massaged by an acupressure specialist.
It’s All In The Thumbs
When administering acupressure to yourself, there’s many ways to stimulate these points. For the best impact, focus on stabilizing the thumbs or pointer fingers into the acupressure points. Use a steady hand to apply sustained pressure with the fingers and thumbs.
Often it will feel tender with more pressure, which helps to access and release the energy of the point. And, try mixing up different movements by interchangeably applying steady or pulsating pressure, and circular motions.
Pressure Points Aimed at Sleep
Here are six pressure points that have an impact on sleep, and how to stimulate them in order to promote relaxation, calm the mind and ease into a deep, restorative rest.
Also known as P6, this pressure point is one of the more well-known points on the body. P6 has been known to alleviate morning sickness, travel sickness or nausea and vomiting.
It is considered one of the most useful pressure points to alleviate sleep difficulty because the point is specified for anxiousness, nervousness and heart palpitations — common symptoms that impact the ability to fall and stay asleep.
In order to find this location, also known as the Inner Gate point, using three fingers (ring, middle and pointer) place them where the wrist meets the hand. This area is called the wrist crease. So, your ring finger should be on the wrist crease and your pointer finger aligns with P6, right in the middle of the forearm between two tendons.
In order to stimulate this point, use your pointer finger to nestle into the acupoint or place the thumb over the point and press down firmly for no less than one minute. Then, press the point on the other hand.
Heart 7 (or H7), also known as the Spirit Gate is another acupressure point that is known to address matters of the heart, like anxiety and worry, which may affect quality sleep. It's found on the inner side of your wrist, right in line with the pinkie finger.
This pressure point works particularly well when sleep is impacted by emotional concerns or even when we’re over-stimulated. Like Pericardium 6, this acupoint also tames heart palpitations that are known to thwart one's sleep.
To stimulate this location: position your right-handed thumb on the wrist crease (the point right where your wrist meets the hand) of the left hand and press the recessed hollow area in the crease for one minute. Then, after a minute, switch sides.
Together, H7 and P6 form a powerful combination to help improve sleep through the use of acupressure. They're closely located to each other with similar point indications like difficulty falling or staying asleep due to anxiety, worry or overthinking.
Lung 9 (or LU9), named Great Abyss, is an acupoint in close proximity to the previous points, H7 and P6. In fact, when all three are used in an acupuncture treatment it is called, Buddhist Triangle because of their synergistic effect in deeply calming the mind and nervous system — essential for a good night’s sleep.
The location of LU9 lies on the wrist crease, just beneath the base of the thumb. You can actually feel the pulse of the radial artery just beneath it. That small pulsation is a good indicator you’ve found the right point. Using the same steady, but firm pressure, place your pointer finger or thumb over the point to stimulate it.
Try alternating LU9 with H7 and P6, holding each point for up to one minute in a sequential order. This can be a very meditative approach to using this form of acupressure to promote calm, relax the body and prepare for sleep.
This acupressure point is fittingly-named because it literally translates to "peaceful sleep."
It's found directly behind your ear -- the soft section of skin right at the juncture of where your neck meets the jawline.
Once you've found this point, use your finger or thumb and use direct, circular pressure to stimulate the point ever so slightly upwards under the skull. Repeat this for a while, upwards of at least 100, about 15 to 20 minutes, or until you feel a sense of relaxation.
This is one of the sleep acupressure points located on the foot, centrally-positioned at the back of the heel.
Shimien responds to both pressure and heat, so you can apply finger or hand pressure to the foot or you can soak feet in warm water, a jet bath, or hot tub in order to activate the area.
If you need help finding it, move your finger down towards the heel, where the point resides just before the sole of the foot.
Kidney 1 - Bubbling Spring
Bubbling Spring, or the Kidney-1 acupressure point can be found right on the sole of your foot, on the upper-central part which also happens to be at the convergence point for the kidney meridian.
Massaging or manipulating this acupressure point with force will have a calming and relaxing feeling and can induce sleep. This is because Chinese medicine theory associates the importance of pulling energy down from the head when we are worried, overthinking or obsessed with our thoughts. By pressing this point, it invites this excess energy to resolve and release.
Gallbladder 20 - Wind Gate
Gallbladder 20, also known as GB20 is located directly along the groove where the neck muscles meet the skull, right near your lower hairline.
In order to manipulate this acupressure point, interlock your fingers with your palms open and then use your thumbs to provide a firm pressure massage for these two specific points in a circular and upward motion. While massaging this acupressure point, close your eyes to relax and practice deep breathing.
Massaging GB20 has also been known to help calm coughing and other respiratory issues, so if these are helping interrupt your sleep, this acupressure point may help not only reduce those issues, but also help you get back to sleeping.
Bonus Point - Yin Tang
The Third Eye Point (yin tang) is literally located directly in the middle of your eyebrows, and is a key acupressure point that helps to relieve anxiety and panic attacks. Its location on the forehead makes it a remarkably effective point for tension and headaches.
As a result of this influence, it relaxes our mind when we’re caught up in overthinking or worrying too much — helping us to relax and eventually fall sleep. Use applied pressure for one minute intervals while focusing on deep breathing.