Can Acupuncture Improve Sleep for Veterans With Traumatic Brain Injury and PTSD?

Doctor that the acupuncture treatment to the patient’s arm
Acupuncture resulted in a significant improvement in sleep measures for veterans with mild traumatic brain injuries, disturbed sleep, and posttraumatic stress disorder.

The findings of a randomized controlled trial suggested that acupuncture may be an effective treatment for veterans who have mild traumatic brain injuries and disrupted sleep, according to a study published in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry.

Between 2010 and 2015, researchers recruited 60 veterans (mean age, 40 years) from the Atlanta Veteran Affairs Medical Center in Decatur, Georgia. The veterans had a history of minor traumatic brain injury ≥3 months and difficulty sleeping. Two-thirds of these participants had a comorbid, clinical Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition, diagnosis of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Participants were randomly assigned into acupuncture and sham groups and stratified according to the PTSD Checklist-Military Version. They received up to 10 sessions of acupuncture over the course of 5 weeks. Sleep was assessed using wrist actigraphy. The primary outcome was change in global Pittsburgh Sleep Quality Index score from pre- to post-intervention.

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At baseline, the mean score was 14.3. Participants who received acupuncture saw an average improvement of 4.4 points compared with sham participants, whose average was 2.4 points (P =.04). Improvements remained significant despite the presence of comorbid PTSD. Sleep efficiency improved by a mean of 2.7% in the acupuncture group vs the sham group, in which sleep efficiency decreased by 5.3%.

The most common adverse reactions included physical discomfort, drowsiness, and mild bleeding after needle removal. At 4-week follow-up, there was no significant difference in Pittsburgh Sleep Quality Index scores between real and sham acupuncture group members.

The study was limited by technical challenges related to actigraphy, including securing devices, technical failure, and missing data. Nonetheless, the authors voiced confidence in acupuncture providing relief for a common issue in the veteran population.


Huang W, Johnson T, Kutner NG, et al. Acupuncture for treatment of persistent disturbed sleep: a randomized clinical trial in veterans with mild traumatic brain injury and posttraumatic stress disorder. J Clin Psychiatry. 2018;80(1):18m12235.