Did I Fall Asleep, or Was I Meditating? What Makes Acupuncture So Relaxing?

The effect acupuncture has on brainwaves can create a sense of calm, whether you take a nap or not. I hear over and over again when I return to remove needles, “I feel like you have been gone for five minutes. Is it really over yet?”

In my own experience, as soon as the needles are in and the practitioner has left the room, I often find myself thinking about what I am going to do for the next 30 minutes, and then, like magic, it’s over. Time becomes elastic, and I feel rested and renewed.


What does happen? Let’s begin with an understanding of our four brainwave players:

  • Delta waves: associated with deep sleep and the release of the human growth hormone
  • Theta waves: associated with REM sleep (dreaming), the production of catecholamines (hormones released during stress), and increased creativity
  • Beta waves: associated with concentration, arousal, alertness and cognition, but also anxiety and unease
  • Alpha waves: connected with relaxation, focus, and wakefulness, and also the production of serotonin (a neurotransmitter in the brain and gut associated with mood and sleep)

A normal, healthy day should be spent oscillating between delta or theta to alpha and back again. In our fast-paced, stressful environments, what we see instead is a different pattern, a fluctuation between beta and delta. We move from exhausted sleep (delta) to highly stimulated stress (beta).

During acupuncture treatment, the brain has been shown to switch from beta waves (alert or anxious) to alpha and theta waves (relaxation and meditation). This may occur with or without sleep, so the sense of stillness and calm occurs whether you take a nap or not. Patients with a history of meditation will often report the ease with which they were able to enter into a meditative state during the duration of their treatment.

And the best part is that research has shown that these benefits remain with you long after the treatment. We often suggest that patients who are having trouble quieting their mind to try acupuncture once a week for three to four weeks. You should feel relaxed and calm, and it just may help you find and begin a meditation practice.

[written by Julie]