Your cancer treatment is—happily—over, but your battle with insomnia goes on…nights spent tossing and turning and staring at the clock. Sleeping pills aren’t a healthy (or necessarily effective) long-term solution. Good news: New research shows that two different pill-free interventions can bring you the sleep you need.

One study, two answers: Researchers at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York set out to compare the effectiveness of two techniques, acupuncture and CBT-I (cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia), considered the gold standard of insomnia treatment. They enrolled 160 participants with an average age of 61, survivors of different types of cancer who were about six years post-treatment.

Before and after the study, participants completed the 28-point Insomnia Severity Index (ISI), a  questionnaire used to rate insomnia and how it affects quality of life (you can take it yourself online). At the beginning of the trial, 33 participants reported mild insomnia (with a score of 8 to 14 points), 94 reported moderate insomnia (a score of 15 to 21 points), and 33 reported severe insomnia (a score of 22 to 28 points).

Participants were then divided into two groups, each group including a representative cross-section of score levels. One group received 10 sessions of traditional Chinese acupuncture designed to treat insomnia as well as stress, pain, and fatigue. The other group was given seven sessions of CBT-I, which changes thoughts and behaviors about sleep and develops habits to create a healthy sleep pattern.

Both methods improved sleep significantly on average. ISI scores fell about 11 points for those in the CBT-I group and about 8 points for those in the acupuncture group.

But there were some useful distinctions found between the two different treatments depending on the degree of insomnia:

  • CBT-I was effective far more often than acupuncture in people with mild insomnia: 85% of these people reported better sleep after CBT-I while only 18% reported better sleep after acupuncture.
  • CBT-I was effective only slightly more often than acupuncture in people with moderate or severe insomnia: 75% responded to CBT-I and 66% to acupuncture.

Perhaps most promising is that the results from both kinds of treatment lasted. Both groups reported improved sleep and a better quality of life with no additional treatment for up to 20 weeks after the eight-week study ended.

Insomnia severity aside, personal preference and availability may play a part in your decision regarding which method to try. CBT-I takes more effort on your part than getting acupuncture—there’s homework involved to practice it correctly—and isn’t offered at all cancer centers. Still intrigued? Click here to learn more about your options if you’d like to consider CBT-I.

If you prefer a more passive therapy or are also dealing with pain and fatigue, acupuncture may be the better option for you since it addresses these side effects as well, and many large cancer centers offer it to manage a variety of symptoms. Click here to learn more about its benefits and how to find an acupuncturist if one isn’t available through your cancer care team.

Interested in trying other natural sleep remedies? Check out “Natural Cures Tailored to Your Sleep Problem.

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