Tue. Jun 6th, 2023

Millions of Americans are struggling to fall asleep owing to stress, environmental factors, work schedule, health issues, poor sleep habits, etc. According to the American Sleep Apnea Association, sleep-related problems cost Americans a whopping $16 billion annually in medical expenses.

Since using prescription sleep aids come with its own set of potential side effects, many are turning to more natural and holistic solutions for falling (and staying) asleep to improve their quality of life. Enter: Ear seeding—the latest sleep trend that has racked up nearly 300 million views on TikTok.

First things first, what is ear seeding?

Rooted in traditional Chinese medicine, ear seeding is a type of auriculotherapy aka ear acupuncture. Instead of inserting thin needles, the treatment involves applying tiny seeds to specific pressure points on your ears to stimulate the acupoints without piercing the skin.

“Traditionally, ear seeds come from the flowering herb Vaccaria but nowadays, they are typically made of metal or ceramic,” says Martin Seeley, CEO and resident sleep expert at MattressNextDay. Some versions are also available as gemmed or nude-colored beads that blend in with your skin tone. Waterproof adhesive or tape is used to stick them on your ears.

Regardless of what kind of ear seeds you’re using, “experts recommend removing ear seeds after five days of application,” notes Seeley.

How do ear seeds impact sleep?

“When applied correctly, ear seeds can stimulate melatonin naturally,” says Seeley. Melatonin is a hormone produced in your brain by the pineal gland that helps regulate your sleep/wake cycle.

As it gets darker, your optic nerve signals your pineal gland—thus prompting your brain to start releasing more melatonin—preparing your body for sleep.

There is a corresponding auricular point for your pineal gland on your ear—located on the lower part of your tragus (the small cartilage projection that partially covers your ear canal), explains Seeley. Applying ear seeds to this point may help stimulate the production of melatonin consequently helping you sleep better, adds the sleep expert.

In addition, research suggests that auricular acupuncture, if done correctly, may also relieve pain, reduce stress and anxiety, regulate blood pressure and facilitate weight management.

However, more scientific investigation is needed as clinical evidence on auriculotherapy at present is very limited and small scale.

How to use ear seeds safely:

If you fancy trying them yourself, here are a few quick tips to keep in mind:

  • Make sure the outside of your ear is clean and dry. Carefully clean the outside of your ears with warm water and a washcloth or cotton pad and dry them completely before applying the ear seeds, Seeley recommends.
  • Identify the acupoints. Use the handy chart that comes with the seeds to find out which pressure points need to be stimulated for your intended purpose. “Alternatively, a trained acupuncturist can show you where and how they should be applied,” suggests Seeley. “Never stick them in the canal of your ear as they could fall in,” he cautions.
  • Use tweezers to apply the ear seeds. To minimize the risk of developing an infection, avoid touching the adhesive or the sticky side of the tape with your hands when applying ear seeds, Seeley suggests. Use tweezers to take out the ear seed from the packaging and apply it directly to the acupoint. Next, use your thumb and forefinger to gently press on the tape to ensure it’s attached securely, he adds.
  • Gently massage the ear seeds. Massage the seeds two to three times daily in a circular motion using gentle pressure, says Seeley. Don’t rub them too rigorously or too often as it might irritate the skin, causing tiny sores to develop around the seeds.
  • Don’t wear them for more than five days. Ear seeds often fall off on their own during sleep, workout, etc. However, even if they do remain in place, it’s not recommended to leave them on for more than five days for hygiene purposes, notes Seeley.
  • Pay attention when you remove them. It’s best to remove ear seeds using tweezers. “However, the most important thing to bear in mind when taking off ear seeds is to ensure they don’t fall into your ear canal,” says Seeley. To prevent this from happening, tilt your head to the side, so your ear faces the ground, before removing the seed. If it does fall into your ear and doesn’t come out, seek medical help immediately, Seeley recommends.
  • Take a break before reapplying. Overusing them can cause pain and sores on your ears in the long run. So let your skin breathe and recover between the application of ear seeds. Ideally, you should wait for at least 24 hours before applying new ear seeds, says Seeley.
  • Consider going to a professional. If you’ve given self-application a go but haven’t noticed any positive effects, it may be because you haven’t applied them correctly. “Consider seeing a trained acupuncturist to reap the full benefits of ear seeding,” Seeley suggests.

Although ear seeds are generally considered safe to use, Seeley still recommends checking your ears every day for signs of inflammation such as redness, swelling, soreness and tenderness. If you experience any of these symptoms, safely remove the seeds right away and visit your healthcare provider at the earliest.

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