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For all those suffering with insomnia, help may be on the way.  Research presented at Sleep 2011, the annual meeting of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine and the Sleep Research Society, offers hope for a safe, natural alternative to sleeping pills for those who struggle to fall asleep and stay asleep at night.  The study looked at ways to cool certain parts of the brain in order to ease the symptoms of those with primary insomnia.

Millions of Americans struggle with insomnia each year and for those whose sleeplessness has no treatable underlying cause, sleeping pills are the most used treatment.  While prescription sleep aids can be very effective at helping insomniacs get to sleep, but are generally only used for short term treatment only.

Additionally, past studies have shown that only 25% of those who use sleeping pills to treat insomnia are satisfied with the treatment.  The dissatisfaction may be a result of side effects like morning fuzziness or hangover-like feelings, concerns over developing a dependence on the pills, or the ineffectiveness of the treatment over the long term.   The need for additional alternatives to sleep aids that offer immediate relief and long-term treatment is clear.

The study from the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine may have found just such a viable, natural alternative for insomniacs.  The study looked at the effectiveness of a technique called frontal cerebral thermal transfer in alleviating symptoms of primary insomnia.  The technique, which involves cooling down the pre-frontal cortex using a plastic cap covered with water circulating tubes, seeks to slow down the metabolism in the frontal cortex and counterbalance the increased metabolism in this part of the brain associated with insomnia.

Participants in the study included 12 women with primary insomnia and 12 women without insomnia who were similar in age.  The study examined the sleep patterns of each participant while they were wearing the cap and while they slept without the cap. To determine the effectiveness of the treatment, researchers looked at the overall effectiveness of the technique and at the differences in effectiveness experienced at different temperatures and when the treatment was administered at different times in the wake-sleep cycles of the participants.

The research team found that cooling the brain of those with insomnia reduced the amount of time it took them to fall asleep and increased the amount of sleep they got, bringing their results in line with the participants who did not have insomnia.  On average, when given the highest intensity treatment, those with insomnia were able to fall asleep in 13 minutes compared to the 16 minutes it took their non-insomniac peers.  Treatment also enabled those with insomnia to get more sleep, matching the percentage of time their peers spent sleeping while in bed at 89%.  The overall effectiveness of the treatment is dependent on the frequency and intensity with which it is administered.

Researchers believe this study provides a sound basis for future investigation that may lead to the use of the brain cooling caps as a viable alternative for treating insomnia.

About Valley Sleep Center:

Since 2002, Valley Sleep Center, accredited by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, has provided Arizona with diagnostic sleep disorder testing in a home-like atmosphere, ensuring a comfortable, relaxing experience for patients.  Their Board Certified Sleep Medicine Specialists consist of experienced and knowledgeable physicians who provide expert advice across a multitude of sleep related disorders including insomnia, sleep apnea, snoring, excessive daytime sleepiness, hypertension, sleepwalking, and pediatric sleep problems.  They accept most insurance plans as well as Medicare.  For more information contact Lauri Leadley at 480-830-3900;

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