Can lying on a pad of spikes help you sleep better? That’s the idea behind the acupressure mat, a trendy wellness product that looks like a short yoga mat covered in hundreds of tiny plastic spikes. They’re designed to put pressure on strategic points in the neck, shoulders, and back to induce the effects of acupuncture in the comfort of your own home — no needles involved.
Reclining on something that’s just one step away from a bed of nails might seem like a counterintuitive way to get better sleep, but some folks say it’s been their ticket to consistently sound slumber. Here’s a closer look at how acupressure mats can affect sleep, and how to make them part of your bedtime routine.
How acupressure mats work
Acupressure is the practice of putting pressure on certain points in the skin to help heal blockages. The ancient Chinese practice is based on the theory that qi, or energy flow, runs through pathways connected by more than 2,000 points in our body. Traditional Chinese medicine practitioners believe that energy flow directly impacts our wellbeing.
“When properly balanced, our flow of qi will promote health. When our qi is unbalanced or lacking, we can suffer from various ailments as a result,” explains Jamie Bacharach, a licensed medical acupuncturist and head of practice at Acupuncture Jerusalem. “It is imbalances of qi which lead directly to sleeping trouble, or other bodily problems that disrupt sleep as a side effect.”
Stimulating certain points in the body is thought to correct the flow of energy and ultimately heal diseases. That can be done in a variety of ways, including inserting needles in the skin (acupuncture), applying physical pressure, or (you guessed it) sprawling out on an acupressure mat.
What the research says on acupressure mats for sleep
Despite the claims you may see online, research on the health benefits of acupressure mats is limited at best. There’s virtually nothing out there proving they can help with sleep.
A small randomized controlled study on 44 people from 2021 found that acupressure mats could improve quality of life and comfort in people with lower back pain, which is known to cause sleep troubles. It echoed the findings of an earlier study from 2012, which looked at the impact of needle stimulation pads (the fancy term for acupressure mats) on 82 people with lower back pain or neck pain. And a 2011 study involving 32 people found that an acupressure mat helped participants feel more relaxed, which, in turn, may contribute to better sleep.
These results sound hopeful, but so far, there’s no conclusive evidence that acupressure mats offer any proven health benefits, let alone help people sleep better. That doesn’t mean they can’t help with sleep, though.
“Acupressure mats may live outside of evidence-based medicine, but one key component is patient experience and that has some value,” explains Tom Ingegno, a licensed acupuncturist at Charm City Integrative Health in Baltimore.
Case in point: Linsey Stevens, a travel editor who has relied on an acupressure mat to relieve pain from a connective tissue disorder and reduce stress and tension for years. When she experienced sleeplessness during her recent pregnancy, she began lying on her trusty acupressure mat before bedtime to see if it would help.
“My whole body would feel more relaxed after 15 minutes or so on the mat, which I typically used draped over a pillow on my bed,” she says. “The mat definitely helped me fall asleep faster during pregnancy, and sometimes even when I woke up in the middle of the night and needed a little help getting back to sleep. It also contributed to my overall sense of well-being and relaxation.”
Likewise, some folks say that lying on an acupressure mat is so soothing that they sometimes drift off on the spikes.
“Once I got past the initial sting of the mat, I went into a deep state of relaxation and many times I would unknowingly fall asleep,” says Jacqui DiNardo, a full-time teacher and blogger. “Using the mat to relax before bed was a game-changer for restful sleep.”
Even though science has yet to explain why Stevens, DiNardo, and other individuals have slept better after using acupressure mats, some experts say these devices may work by improving circulation and easing stress in the body.
“By promoting healthy blood flow, an acupressure mat can trigger the release of endorphins that promote relaxation and lead to sleep that comes more easily and is higher quality,” says Bacharach. “This effect will also relieve anxiety, stress, and tension, similarly promoting healthy sleep.”
Still, no research can say for sure whether an acupressure mat will work for you. But since there’s also no evidence that these mats cause harm, an acupressure mat might be worth experimenting with ahead of bedtime if you have room in your budget to buy one. Expect to spend anywhere from $20 to $80 on an acupressure mat, such as the Spoonk Organic Hemp Mat from SleepScore Labs.
Tips for using an acupressure mat for sleep
Using an acupressure mat might not be the most relaxing experience at first — after all, you are putting your bodyweight on a bunch of spikes — but Ingegno recommends placing the acupressure mat on your mattress and putting a T-shirt between your back and the spikes to reduce the intensity. Then, gently rest your back on the mat, paying attention to apply pressure to the area between your shoulder blades.
“That’s the number one area for people to hold stress, and [stimulating it] is great for regulating sleep,” he explains.
Plan to use the acupressure mat daily for about 20 minutes before bed at the beginning, says Bacharach. You can gradually scale up or down in 5- to 10-minute increments over the course of a few weeks to see how it affects your sleep until you find your sweet spot.
You might also consider practicing other sleep-promoting techniques, like listening to calming music, doing breathing exercises, and meditating, while using the acupressure mat to further boost your chances of getting a good night’s rest.
The bottom line on acupressure mats for sleep
If you’re looking for proof that an acupressure mat will improve your sleep, you probably won’t find it in any published scientific literature just yet. But anecdotal reports from everyday people suggest that sprawling out on spikes can make a difference in your sleep. If you are curious about the benefits of acupressure, it might be worth experimenting with an acupressure mat to see if it helps you achieve better sleep.