While wearing the cooling cap, it took insomnia patients an average of 13 minutes to fall asleep and they spent 89 percent of their time in bed actually sleeping, about the same as controls who didn't have insomnia (the latter group averaged 16 minutes to fall asleep and 89 percent of the time in bed sleeping) .
The cooling cap was, however, associated with an increased amount of slow-wave sleep -- or the deepest, restorative portion of sleep, the researchers reported.
"What we wanted to find out was: 'Would cooling the surface of the brain of insomnia patients result in lower metabolism and improved sleep? The basic answer in this preliminary study, is yes, it seems to work, and it works in two ways," said Buysse. "It does reduce brain metabolism in the frontal lobes, and it improves sleep."
Dr. William Kohler, medical director of the Florida Sleep Institute, said the concept was exciting and worth further research in larger studies that include body temperature measurements and brain imaging tests.
"The theoretical concept is correct, in that we do know from many previous studies that as the body core temperature cools, our sleep improves, and with warming of the core temperature, we have more restless sleep," Kohler said.
Chronic insomnia -- which the American Academy of Sleep Medicine attributes to about one out of every 10 Americans -- can be difficult to treat. Medications can help, although many people complain of side effects, Kohler said. The most effective treatment is cognitive behavior therapy, which involves changes such as avoiding cigarettes, alcohol and caffeine before bed, and getting plenty of bright light in the morning but turning off the TV, computer and dimming the lights during a wind-down period, among other techniques for improving "sleep hygiene."
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