Education Reduces Sleepless Nights
By Janice Billingsley, HealthScoutNews
If your energy
is sapped because you can never sleep through the night, take comfort
in the fact that you can break your exhausting habit.
That's what Duke
University researchers found in a study of longtime insomniacs. Sleep
education, combined with behavioral therapy, increased nightly slumber
by as much as a half hour for many sleep-deprived sufferers.
That was a
big step forward for some whose sleep troubles had plagued them
for an average of 13 years.
was a big improvement. They reduced their wake-up times by more
than half, so that their sleep time increased by 20 to 30 minutes
a night," says study author Jack D. Edinger.
affects between 28 million and 33 million Americans, is characterized
by sleeplessness that hinders daytime activities, causing exhaustion,
lack of concentration and increased health risks. It's often missed
and rarely treated, Edinger says.
are not spring-loaded to come in for treatment. It's not like an
injury; you're not outwardly bleeding, and you feel annoyance at
first. People think they should be able to handle it," he says.
"Unfortunately, the things that occur to people to do naturally,
like taking a nap, going to bed earlier, sleeping in on weekends,
are most often worsening their problem."
In his study,
which appeared in the Journal of the American Medical Association,
Edinger looked at 75 people with sleep problems. There were 40 men
and 35 women, and about 55 had suffered insomnia for an average
of 13.6 years.
Of those, 25
received a combination of sleep education and behavioral therapy,
25 were trained in muscle-relaxation techniques and 25 were placed
in a placebo group. All had reported problems with staying asleep
during the night. This is a type of insomnia associated with older
people, Edinger says, while younger people more often have trouble
The first group
listened to an audio tape of basic facts about sleep, including
sleep requirements, the mechanics of sound slumber, the effects
of sleep deprivation and the effects of aging on sleep. They then
were asked to change their sleep habits by not napping during the
day, using the bed for sleep alone and, if they found themselves
awake for more than 20 minutes, to get out of bed. They were also,
based on their histories, given a recommended amount of time to
stay in bed, Edinger says. Often insomniacs will stay in bed too
long, hoping to get more sleep. They were then asked to keep a daily
sleep log, noting their sleep patterns for the previous night.
group was given muscle tensing/relaxation exercises to do each night
before bedtime, and the third placebo group was given simple relaxation
exercises with no proven effect. These groups were also asked to
keep daily sleep logs.
After six weeks,
testing by the scientists and a review of the sleep logs found those
in the first group had a 54 percent reduction in the time they were
awake during the night, compared to only 16 percent and 12 percent
reductions in the other two groups.
really pleased with the results. They confirmed our treatments,"
was a good study," says psychologist Peter Hauri, a consultant
at the Mayo Clinic's Sleep Disorder Center. "We use cognitive
behavioral therapy daily."
While the therapy
is beneficial for those with entrenched sleep problems, Hauri uses
other techniques as well with the approximately 6,000 people who
come to the sleep center annually. Called "sleep hygiene rules,"
they include limiting the amount of time a person spends in bed.
Also recommended is 20 minutes of intense aerobic exercise about
five to six hours before bed.
is characterized by hyper-arousal -- high metabolism, high body
temperature, brain waves going fast," he says, either from
physical causes such as caffeine or emotional causes such as worry,
stress or even boredom. If you exercise about six hours before you
go to sleep, you set your body up for a "rebound effect,"
fatigue that coincides with your bedtime, easing the way towards
also get your clock out of sight: "Set the alarm and hide it
in the top dresser drawer, otherwise it will make you compute your
sleep time, which is arousing and uncomfortable," he says.
It's fine to
help sleep along by reading or watching a movie on the VCR in bed,
as long as you don't know what time it is, Hauri says. Don't watch
a television show, for instance, because that will tell you the
people say to only use the bed for sleeping, but I suggest finding
whatever works for you," he says. "Read as long as you
can. When you can't read any longer, drop the book on the floor
and go to sleep."
majority of cases you can make things better. You might not become
a champion Olympic sleeper, but you can improve your sleep habits,"
Sleep Foundation has helpful information about how to combat
insomnia. For an explanation of what the brain does during sleep,
The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.
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