Is this drug-free cure for insomnia a silver bullet for the sleep-deprived?

Insomnia cure
CC BY 2.0 Joana Coccarelli/Flickr

A slew of research concludes that the proven secret to better sleep has nothing to do with popping pills.

Insomnia is vexing. It’s aggravating, frustrating, maddening. It can affect work and relationships. In its chronic form, it is associated with greater risk of anxiety, depression, hypertension, diabetes, accidents and pain.

Most of us who suffer from insomnia – and more than one-third of adults can make such a claim – have tried everything. From no lights in the bedroom to turning off screens and skipping the wine and cutting back on the caffeine and eating properly and herbal supplements and meditation and … and and and. And a lot of us find that nothing works. In desperation, many turn to pharmaceuticals with pleasant-sounding names; seductive monikers that seem conjured up by Morpheus himself … Ambien, Lunesta, Sonata, Silonal, Resteril. And with those can come side effects that hardly make them worth the sleep.

What’s a sleepy sleep-wanting person to do?

While the makers of pharmaceuticals promise their efficacy, when it comes to insomnia, comparative effectiveness studies reveal that sleep medications aren’t the best bet for a cure, despite what the commercials say, reports The New York Times. And in fact, several clinical trials have found that there is something else that works better: cognitive behavioral therapy (C.B.T.) for insomnia (also called C.B.T.-I.). Pushing a step beyond the basics of good-sleep-inducing habits, C.B.T. uses therapy visits or self-guided treatments to help the sleep deprived get a good night’s sleep.

A number of trials have found that C.B.T. outperforms the best-known sleep drugs. And a systematic review of C.B.T. for insomnia recently published in the Annals of Internal Medicine discusses just how much relief it actually can provide. Combining data from 20 clinical trials, the authors calculated sleep improvements people experienced after C.B.T. treatment compared to no treatment. On average, C.B.T. patients feel asleep nearly 20 minutes faster and spent almost a half-hour less awake in the night, with an average sleep improvement each night of 10 percent; results that are similar to or better than those offered by sleep aids – and they last longer.

My initial thought about reading about this was: great, but aren’t the expense and scheduling of getting oneself to therapy likely prohibitive for many a needer of sleep? As it turns out: no. Online programs are perfectly effective and ones like this, ( which was designed by a Harvard medical researcher and has countless testimonials – it was written about in the above-mentioned Times article – costs $34.95 and takes five weeks.

All I can say is: This insomniac is going to try it. I'll get back to you in five weeks ... hopefully brighter-eyed and better rested.

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