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Can't Sleep? Try Online Therapy

Help with relaxation techniques and bedtime habits may ease insomnia

FRIDAY, June 5 (HealthDay News) -- You've tried counting sheep, maybe even taken sleeping pills. You might also want to try online therapy for help in getting a better night's rest.

Chronic insomniacs who took part in online cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), including education about sleep hygiene, relaxation techniques and tips for stilling an overactive mind, reported getting a better night's sleep than those who didn't take part in the therapy, according to a study in the June 1 issue of the journal Sleep.

The study involved 118 adults with chronic insomnia, meaning they'd experienced nighttime sleep problems followed by excessive daytime fatigue more than four times a week for six months or longer.

Half of the participants were given access to audiovisual clips, downloadable MP3 files and PDF files that provided information about ways to combat insomnia. The others were put on a waiting list and asked not to seek treatment in the meantime.

The audiovisual material included information on insomnia and relaxation techniques such as deep breathing and self-hypnosis as well as tips for promoting good "sleep hygiene." Suggestions included not napping during the day, getting out of bed if you can't fall asleep and creating a restful bedroom environment. Other lessons covered ways to calm down and put to rest anxiety and worrisome thoughts when trying to sleep.

After five weeks, 81 percent of those being treated (30 of 37) reported at least mild improvement in their sleep, including 35 percent who rated themselves as much or very much improved.

About 30 percent said they got an additional hour of sleep by the end of the program. Those who'd received treatment also developed healthier attitudes about sleep and were less likely to report having an overactive mind at bedtime.

"Although each segment of the CBT program is important, the cognitive therapy module was the most positively rated," said the study's lead author, Norah Vincent, a psychologist at the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg, Canada. "The cognitive therapy section was designed to help individuals to develop realistic expectations about sleep and the impact of sleep on next-day functioning while teaching a variety of strategies for coping with an overactive mind and worries."

About 9 percent of the U.S. population suffers from insomnia, according to the study.

More information

The American Academy of Sleep Medicine has more on insomnia.

-- Jennifer Thomas

SOURCE: American Academy of Sleep Medicine, news release, June 1, 2009

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