To help overcome insomnia, get out of bed: study

Tue Jan 25, 2011 8:59am EST
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NEW YORK (Reuters Life!) - For insomniacs to get better sleep, spending less time in bed may be key -- one part of short-term behavioral therapy that could help older adults beat insomnia, according to a study.

Daniel Buysse, at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, led a research team that found that a few short visits and phone calls with a nurse as part of a brief behavioral treatment helped overcome chronic insomnia among older adults.

Insomnia affects one in every five U.S. citizens, rising to one in three among the elderly, and has been linked to a range of physical problems from accidents to hypertension. Not surprisingly, it is also detrimental to mental health.

The keystone of the behavioral therapy involved, as reported in the Archives of Internal Medicine, was simple yet counter-intuitive.

"When you are sleeping poorly, the most important thing you can do is spend less time in bed," Buysse said.

Three decades of research has shown that cognitive behavioral therapy is just as effective as a pill for insomnia, with fewer side effects. Yet the time and resource-intense strategy, usually involving between six and eight hour-long appointments with a clinical psychologist, is not widely available.

In addition, the cost, generally in the hundreds of dollars, is beyond the reach of many.

To see if the pill-free therapy could be shortened and simplified, Buysse and his colleagues studied 79 adults with chronic insomnia who averaged 72 years of age.

The participants were randomly assigned to receive either printed educational material about sleep or the brief behavioral treatment of one 45- to 60-minute in-person session, a 30-minute follow-up session and two 20-minute phone calls.   Continued...

<p>A resident sleeps in a senior citizens' home in Svetlograd, about 100 km (62 miles) from Russia's southern city of Stavropol April 1, 2009. REUTERS/Eduard Korniyenko</p>