Can’t Sleep? It May Help to Get Out of Bed

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Those who have suffered from insomnia know the sinking feeling of watching the clock tick into the wee hours. Now a new study in the Archives of Internal Medicine suggests that lying in bed awake may actually contribute to the problem of sleeplessness.

The study of 79 adults (average age 72) with insomnia aimed to determine whether brief behavioral interventions for insomnia would help. Conventional cognitive behavioral therapy requires at least half a dozen hour-long sessions with a therapist — a costly commitment many patients either can’t make or don’t have access to. Other options include sleep-aiding medications or supplements. (More on You Snooze, You Lose: More Weekend Sleep Cuts Kids’ Obesity Risk)

In the current study, the 39 participants in the behavioral therapy group received a 45- to 60-minute counseling session, plus a 30-minute follow-up session and two 20-minute phone calls.

Nurse practitioners offered the following behavioral interventions for improving sleep: reduce time in bed; get up at the same time every day, regardless of sleep duration; don’t go to bed unless sleepy; and don’t stay in bed unless asleep.

The other 40 participants in the study were given printed educational materials about insomnia, which included the same instructions given to the intervention group, but without the individualized sessions with a therapist. Two weeks later, the latter group also got a 10-minute follow-up phone call. (More on Why Americans Are Among the Most Sleepless People in the World)

All volunteers were asked to keep sleep diaries for a month; they also wore actigraphs on their wrist or ankle to monitor sleep and waking activity.

At the end of four weeks, the behavioral treatment group was significantly more likely to show improvements in sleep than the printed-materials group. By that time, 55% of those who received behavioral treatment no longer met the criteria for insomnia, compared with 13% of the group that got educational brochures.

The good news comes at the same time as a report on the health effects of insomnia from the U.K.’s Mental Health Foundation. Reported the BBC:

The report, Sleep Matters, suggests a link between insomnia and poor relationships, low energy levels and an inability to concentrate. Poor sleep has already been linked to depression, immune deficiency and heart disease. The report calls for GPs to have more training to recognize the symptoms.

For at least some of the roughly 60 million Americans who suffer from chronic sleeplessness, a brief intervention led by a nurse practitioner may help, according to the current findings. Because the treatment is so simple and can be administered by nurses either in person or over the phone, the study’s authors believe it would be relatively easy to implement, especially for older adults who suffer disproportionately from disordered sleeping. (More on Lack of Sleep Linked With Depression, Weight Gain and Even Death)

Check with your doctor if you think you are having sleep problems. And see this helpful and informative article about insomnia from the National Sleep Foundation.