New hope for insomnia sufferers

May 21, 2008 8:47:29 AM PDT
Insomnia and sleeplessness are problems that affect most adults at some point in their lives. An estimated 30 percent to 50 percent of the population are affected by insomnia and 10 percent have chronic insomnia. According to the National Sleep Foundation, women are 1.3 times more likely to report insomnia more than men and those over age 65 report insomnia 1.5 times more than younger people. Divorced, widowed and separated individuals also suffer from insomnia more than the general population. Oftentimes, people will develop insomnia from psychological causes, including stress, anxiety and depression. Physiological conditions can also lead to sleeplessness. Those include chronic pain syndromes, congestive heart failure, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and degenerative diseases like Alzheimer's disease. Extended periods of sleeplessness can lead to poor concentration, difficulty remembering things, depression, impaired motor coordination, irritability and impaired social interaction.

ACHIEVING SLEEP: Isomnia sufferers will go to great lengths to fall asleep. Over-the-counter and prescription sleep aids, like zolpidem (Ambien), eszopicione (Lunesta) and melatonin, help some get to sleep. For many patients, however, medications can become habit forming or still may not help them achieve sleep. The key to getting some Z's, however, may come in a more natural way.

Studies show as healthy people fall asleep, blood from the core of the body moves to the limbs. This results in an increase of about one degree Fahrenheit in the hands and feet. In patients with sleep disorders, however, this temperature transfer does not occur. Sleep specialists are now testing temperature biofeedback in insomniacs to replicate the normal temperature response.

TEMPERATURE BIOFEEDBACK: Four or five 30 minute sessions over a span of five weeks can help the brain learn to control physiological responses and actually stimulate the healthy blood to limb transfer. Studies out of Weill Cornell Medical College show 90 percent of patients are able to learn the temperature biofeedback techniques successfully. Studies of the technique are ongoing, but researchers say results have been promising.

"They were able to fall asleep faster. It's as simple as that. We had one person that was taking him a couple of hours to fall asleep and it was reduced to a half hour," Matthew Ebben, Ph.D., a sleep specialist at the Center for Sleep Medicine at New York - Presbyterian/Weill Cornell, told Ivanhoe. "It probably won't help everyone, but it will help people that don't want to take medications and are able to learn the technique."


Andrew Klein
Weill Cornell Medical College

The American Academy of Sleep Medicine
Behavioral Sleep Medicine