Acupressure for sleep disturbances in old age

Sleep is a basic human need, and it is vital to good health and well-being. Aging, however, often naturally affects sleep patterns. As one grows older, it takes longer to fall into sleep, sleep duration shortened, waking up more often in the middle of sleep, and harder to get into a deep sleep [1]. It is estimated that about 40%-70% of older adults have chronic sleep problems; more than half of them did not seek any treatment [2].

Insomnia can affect health and quality of life.

Acupressure is a treatment method that applies pressure to specific points on the body. Acupressure is closely related to acupuncture. However, instead of using needles, acupressure uses fingers, knuckles, or dull objects to apply pressure to acupoints [3]. According to Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), these acupoints correspond to the different organs and systems in the body. Sleep problems are caused by the underly disharmony of different organs and systems, most commonly, deficiency of both the heart and spleen (心脾 兩虛),  hyperactivity of fire due to yin deficiency (陰虛 火旺), and liver-qi stagnation transforming into fire (肝鬱 化火) [4]. Hence, by applying pressure to the specific acupoints that regulate Qi flow to the corresponding systems, the healing ability of the body can be triggered to correct the disharmony [3]. Research has shown that acupressure is useful in improving the sleep latency and sleep duration of insomnia patients, especially among the elderly [3].

I will introduce two acupressure points that are useful to improve sleep quality. These two points are Shenmen (神门) and Neiguan (内关), as shown in the following picture.

Location of the Shenmen (神门) and Neiguan (内关) acupoints.

Here is a simple acupressure technique for these two points. It will be helpful to do some warm-up massage first, before starting to apply pressure on these two points:

  1. Start with one arm. Begin by applying some massage oil on the forearm to the palm area —massage for about two minutes.
  2. Locate the Shenmen point with thumb and pressure down with force until one can feel slight pain. Gently swirls clockwise 20 times and then swirl anticlockwise for another 20 times. This process will take about two minutes.
  3. Locate the Neiguan point with thumb and pressure down with reasonable force. Gently swirls clockwise 20 times and then swirl anticlockwise for another 20 times. Similarly, this action will take about two minutes.
  4. Repeat for another arm.
Lavender essential oil is a perfect companion with acupressure to improve sleep quality.

This technique is safe and easy to apply, and it will take only about 10 to 12 minutes to complete. It will be useful to apply at least once a day, especially before bedtime. It is also good to combine acupressure with essential oils. Relaxation oils such as lavender or lemon balm are the perfect companions. A study with 130 dementia patients has found that combining lavender essential oil with acupressure is more effective than aromatherapy alone in reducing agitation in dementia patients [5]. The calming effect of this aroma-acupressure is conducive to sleep.  


[1]        B.A. Mander, J.R. Winer, M.P. Walker, Sleep and Human Aging, Neuron. 94 (2017) 19–36. doi:10.1016/j.neuron.2017.02.004.

[2]        B. Miner, M.H. Kryger, Sleep in the Aging Population, Sleep Med. Clin. 12 (2017) 31–38. doi:10.1016/j.jsmc.2016.10.008.

[3]        A. Waits, Y.-R. Tang, H.-M. Cheng, C.-J. Tai, L.-Y. Chien, Acupressure effect on sleep quality: A systematic review and meta-analysis, Sleep Med. Rev. 37 (2018) 24–34. doi:

[4]        M.M.-K. Poon, K.-F. Chung, W.-F. Yeung, V.H.-K. Yau, S.-P. Zhang, Classification of Insomnia Using the Traditional Chinese Medicine System: A Systematic Review, Evidence-Based Complement. Altern. Med. 2012 (2012) 735078. doi:10.1155/2012/735078.

[5]        M.-H. Yang, L.-C. Lin, S.-C. Wu, J.-H. Chiu, P.-N. Wang, J.-G. Lin, Comparison of the efficacy of aroma-acupressure and aromatherapy for the treatment of dementia-associated agitation, BMC Complement. Altern. Med. 15 (2015) 93. doi:10.1186/s12906-015-0612-9.

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