Insomnia Cap May Allay Sleeping Blues

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Could treating insomnia be as simple as putting on a cap to slow down the brain's metabolism during sleep?

One experiment (see abstract 0534 of Nofzinger and Buysse study), presented at the Meeting of the Associated Professional Sleep Societies, supports the idea, suggesting a special plastic cap might be the answer.

Participants who received the treatment developed sleeping patterns more akin to individuals without insomnia.

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But the idea isn't new. In fact, the same team developed the technology three years ago with promising results. But new research determined which doses work best at specific times before and during sleep. The method, called frontal cerebral transfer therapy, was developed after researchers learned that people with insomnia have higher brain metabolism than their well-rested counterparts.

In other words, the prefrontal cortex in people with insomnia is hyperactive and keeps them up when the rest of the body slows down before sleep and during non-REM sleep. Cooling the brain lowers metabolism in this area, thus reducing insomnia among most participants.

In the latest experiment, the sleep researchers recruited 12 women to receive treatment with the caps. The participants had primary insomnia, meaning their disorders were not caused by mental or physical problems (unlike two-thirds of people with forms of the disorder).

The women wore the plastic caps before and during sleep, with tubes circulating cool water pressed to their foreheads. The effectiveness of the treatment — how well the women fell and stayed asleep — depended on the intensity and frequency of the treatment administered.

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But before crafting your own brain-cooling device, keep in mind that the research was conducted under controlled conditions on a small sample size. It's also not clear why only women were studied. Researchers say trying the method with a larger number of people — presumably with both sexes — is necessary before recommending its use on a larger scale.

Still, the approach differs from other drug-based treatments for people living with the condition.

Insomnia is a sleeping disorder that hinders people from falling or staying asleep. It can be acute or chronic, and is influenced by alcohol or caffeine consumption as well as anxiety and stress, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine.

Photo by Alyssa L. Miller/Flickr.com

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