Single hour-long therapy session allows insomniacs to sleep easy

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The study found that 60 percent of those that received the therapy experienced improvements in their sleep quality within one month. After three months, this jumped to 73 percent.

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Given the avalanche of sleep tracking bracelets, watches and even headphones to flood the market in recent times, it might seem that a solution to those restless nights will most likely be found in the world of wearable electronics. But new research suggests that a one-off therapy session could be all that's needed to treat the symptoms of insomnia.

Characterized by difficulties getting to sleep and staying there, insomnia is a condition that affects around one in four Americans at an estimated cost of US$63 billion to the economy. Considered a biological response to stress and anxiety, existing treatments options include prescription sleeping pills or therapy aimed at changing behavior and attitudes as you slip under the covers.

It is through a modified version of this latter technique that researchers at England's Northumbrian University say they have uncovered a highly effective way to treat early-stage insomniacs. The team focused on those suffering with acute insomnia, which is defined as those who have had symptoms for over two weeks but no more than three months, at which point it progresses to chronic insomnia.

The study saw 40 acute insomnia sufferers split into two groups of 20, with sleep diaries used to monitor their sleeping habits for seven days. One group then received a self-help pamphlet and a one-on-one, hour-long therapy session with Professor Jason Ellis, Professor of Sleep Science at the university's Department of Psychology. Ellis had taken behavioral approaches used more commonly in therapy with chronic insomniacs and packed them into a more condensed, efficient format.

In the sessions, Ellis directed the subjects to restrict the time they are in bed. This included setting particular sleep and wake-up times to make their routines more efficient. The second part of the therapy pertains to a so-called 15-minute rule, which implores the subject to get out of the room when frustration starts to set in. The idea here is to discontinue the association between the bedroom and negative feelings.

"We don't want you associating the bedroom with anger, frustration or misery, those things really aren't conducive to sleep," says Ellis. "As soon as you start to feel that, you have to leave the bedroom. You can go and do whatever you want to do, only come back to the bedroom when you are sleepy. That seems to break the association with being awake in the bedroom."

The study found that 60 percent of those that received the therapy experienced improvements in their sleep quality within one month. After three months, this jumped to 73 percent, compared to only 15 percent of the control group who received no treatment at all. Three months, the point where it transitions to chronic insomnia, is considered significant because it is where sufferers are particularly susceptible to depression.

Ellis now plans to to get the treatment into primary care, deploying the approach in clinics to lessen the reliance on prescription drugs.

The research was published in the journal Sleep.

You can hear from professor Ellis in the video below.

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