Insomnia help a mouse click away

March 24, 2010 8:43:54 AM PDT
The National Sleep Foundation estimates 20 percent of Americans -- up from 13 percent eight years ago -- sleep fewer than six hours per night.

The number of people who sleep eight hours dropped from 38 percent to 28 percent over the same time frame. Experts predict the market for sleep medications to grow 78 percent, to almost $4 billion, by the year 2012. A recent poll by the National Sleep Foundation suggests the poor economy is playing an important role in the decline of sleep quality in the United States. Results show more than a quarter -- 27 percent -- of Americans are losing sleep over financial worries.

TREATMENT: While Americans filled more than 50 million prescriptions for sleeping pills last year and spent more than $600 million on over-the-counter sleep supplements, medications are only one treatment option for insomnia. Some experts caution that sleep medications aren't intended to treat a chronic problem and carry dangerous side effects. "They cause you to have impaired memory," Gregg Jacobs, Ph.D., a sleep specialist at UMass Memorial Medical Center in Worcester, Mass., told Ivanhoe. "During the night, people sleep walk and they sleep eat ... Long-term, they become dependent on the pill."

To get better sleep, experts recommend trying the following:

  • Exercise regularly
  • Avoid caffeine after 2 p.m.
  • Avoid more than a glass of wine or an equivalent amount of alcohol in the evening
  • Get in bed 30 minutes before you plan to fall asleep and read a calming book
  • If you have trouble sleeping for months and feel tired most days, find a board-certified sleep specialist

COGNITIVE BEHAVIORAL THERAPY: Dr. Jacobs offers a drug-free therapy for insomnia patients called cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). The five- to six-week program teaches patients to stick to a sleep schedule, associate the bed with sleep only, eradicate worrisome thoughts that cause sleep loss and perform relaxation techniques. While a recent JAMA study shows cognitive behavior therapy alone works better long-term than when combined with meds, and experts claim a 70 to 80 percent success rate with CBT, not all patients have access to a counselor trained in the therapy. For this reason, some specialists offer online sleep counseling programs. A new study in the journal SLEEP found 81 percent of patients who completed a five-week, online program for insomnia reported improvement in sleep. A separate study published recently in the Archives of General Psychiatry shows nighttime wakefulness decreased by 55 percent for participants enrolled in an online sleep counseling program. Experts say a downside to online therapy is it makes it more difficult to get to the root of patients' sleep troubles, especially for patients who are depressed or suicidal.

For More Information, Contact:

Dr. Gregg D. Jacobs
UMass Memorial Medical Center
Worcester, MA