A simple one-hour therapy session in the early stages of insomnia may be all it takes to help treat the condition, according to a new study. Within just three months of participating in the 60-minute session, which helped them better understand insomnia and taught them coping strategies, almost three quarters of participants reported improvements in sleep quality.
The approach isn't anything revolutionary - scientists have been using cognitive behavioural therapy for decades to help people sleep better - but this is the first time anyone has attempted to treat acute insomniacs within the first three months of sleep disruption, before the condition becomes chronic.
"The results of our study clearly showed that a single therapy session had successful results, with an improvement in sleep quality for some 60 percent of those with acute insomnia within one month," lead researcher and psychologist Jason Ellis, from Northumbria University in the UK, said in a press release. "The longer-term benefits were even better with almost three quarters of those who received the intervention not developing chronic insomnia."
This first three months is a crucial window of time, as people in the early stages of insomnia are more susceptible to developing depression. But currently, many practitioners wait to see if the condition will get better on its own before prescribing treatments such as counselling or sleeping tablets.
Ellis and his team have estimated that around one-third of adults in the UK have suffered from acute insomnia at some point, which Ellis describes as a "biological response to a stressful situation". Symptoms involve anything from difficulty falling asleep and poor sleep quality to frequently waking up during the night - all of which lead to memory, mood and concentration problems during waking hour - so it's crucial that we find out more about how the disease works and find better ways to help people cope early on.
"There are numerous advantages to treating insomnia during an acute phase. If successful there is potential for significant savings in terms of long-term healthcare, lost productivity and accidents," said Ellis.
In the study, the team worked with 40 volunteers who had experienced insomnia for between two weeks and three months. These volunteers hadn't undergone any cognitive behavioural therapy in the past, and weren't currently on sleep medication. All participants were asked to document their sleep patterns and quality seven days before the study, and rated the severity of their insomnia.
The researchers then split these volunteers into two groups - one was given a 60-minute, one-on-one cognitive behavioural therapy session, where they were taught about sleep strategies, such as making sure they only spend time in bed when they're about to fall asleep. They were then given sleep diaries and a pamphlet with more information on ways to detach their mind and minimise distractions before bed, and were prescribed a set sleeping and waking time each day. The other group served as a control, and received no counselling or support.
After one month, 60 percent of the first group reported improved sleep quality, and this improved to 73 percent after three months, in contrast to only 15 percent of the control group.
After hearing the results, 70 percent of the control group wanted to try out the counselling session. Obviously, this is a very small study, and further research is needed to confirm how effective this treatment is. But it shows that there might be a simple way that we can get in early and help people manage their own insomnia before it becomes chronic and starts impacting on their health.
The results have been published in the journal SLEEP. You can find out more about the treatment in the video below: