Anyone who has suffered insomnia will know just how soul-destroying it is. No matter how many herbal teas you slurp, pages you read, sheep you count or rainforest recordings you listen to, your brain simply just does not want to switch off. Given the importance of sleep to your health, knocking the problem on its head in its early stages is crucial to decrease the risk of the situation worsening into the development of chronic insomnia. And scientists may have just found a remarkably effective way to do that.
According to the results of a new trial, just one 60-minute therapy session resolved insomnia in almost three-quarters of participants within three months. Although the same treatment—cognitive behavioral therapy—has been shown to be incredibly effective for patients who already have chronic insomnia, it had never been tested for patients with an acute version of the condition. And given the risk of depression that those shifting from acute to chronic insomnia face, this trial was of particular importance.
“There are numerous advantages to treating insomnia during an acute phase,” lead author Professor Ellis said in a statement. “If successful there is potential for significant savings in terms of long-term healthcare, lost productivity and accidents.”
For the investigation, which was conducted by researchers at Northumbria University, 40 adults with clinically defined insomnia were enrolled. All of them self-reported that they had not suffered the condition for more than three months and thus were categorized as having acute, rather than chronic, insomnia. None of them were taking sleeping pills, and none reported that they had undertaken cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) for insomnia before.
Participants were then randomly split into two groups, one of which received a single 60-70 minute CBT session alongside a self-help leaflet, while the other was put on a waiting list and received no treatment. During the treatment, participants were educated about sleep and how needs differ at different times of life. The pamphlet they were provided with taught them how to detect the problem, detach from it and distract themselves, for example using imagery.
For seven days before treatment and one month afterwards, both groups were asked to record their sleeping patterns in a diary and complete the Insomnia Severity Index, a measure of the nature, severity and impact of the problem. Outcomes were then measured at one and three months post-treatment.
As described in the journal SLEEP, one month after treatment was given, an impressive 60% of patients in the CBT group remitted, but only 15% in the control group reported sleep improvements. And rather than reducing in efficacy over time, after three months this figure increased to 73% for those that received treatment. This is probably why 70% of those not given treatment requested CBT after the study.
“Chronic insomnia is a considerable health burden both on the individual and the economy and has been linked to the development of, or worsening of, a number of physical and psychiatric conditions,” says Professor Ellis. “It is also a highly prevalent and largely unrelenting condition, so anything we can do to stop acute insomnia developing to the chronic stage will be of real benefit.”