If you regularly have trouble falling asleep at night and staying awake the next day, you are among some 40 million Americans afflicted by chronic sleep disorders, including insomnia.
In fact, a 2011 study concluded that insomnia is so prevalent among U.S. workers that it costs American business $63 billion annually in lost productivity. The study, conducted on behalf of several drug companies, said insomnia is responsible for 252 million days of lost productivity each year, even though most sleep-deprived people go to work. They just don’t work as efficiently as they could.
Doctors diagnose chronic insomnia in people who have trouble falling asleep or who wake up frequently during their normal sleep cycle at least three times a week. Although prescription sleeping pills like Ambien or Lunesta can provide some relief, most physicians don’t recommend them for long-term treatment.
Instead, sleep experts recommend lifestyle changes to patients who are unable to get enough rest. Increasingly, experts are trying neurofeedback, also called neurotherapy, to help patients “learn” to sleep better.
According to The Maine Center of Neurointegration in Bangor, neurofeedback is a non-invasive process where brain waves are monitored in real time by a computer that can then use that information to produce changes in brainwave activity. The computer monitors your brainwaves while you watch a movie or listen to music. When deviations from normal brainwave activity occur, the computer triggers an audio or visual cue that alerts the patient that they are outside normal ranges. These cues are received by the brain, which subconsciously adjusts itself back to a normal pattern to make the cue stop.
Brain activity and sleep are closely related. According to the National Sleep Foundation, “the brain uses sleep to strengthen existing as well as building new pathways. New pathways in the brain help us with both concentration and reaction time.” Neuropathy also helps the brain create new pathways.
A 2008 study by doctors at Norwalk (Connecticut) Hospital, a Yale University teaching hospital, found the average total sleep time for test subjects increased from 5.7 hours to 6.7 hours after neurofeedback treatment. The study involved 18 people who underwent an average of 15 neurofeedback sessions over two months.
It concluded that neurofeedback is an effective tool in managing chronic insomnia and could enhance or even be used in place of cognitive behavioral therapy. The report acknowledged more research is necessary to determine the long-term effectiveness of neurofeedback in relieving insomnia.
In a 2012 interview, Dr. Ed O’Malley, the director of the insomnia lab at Norwalk Hospital, said 90 percent of the study participants were able to stop their medications completely after receiving the neurofeedback treatments. Some decided to stay on their meds, but their sleep still improved.
If you or someone you know has chronic insomnia, Maine Center of Neurointegration can review many different options to help assess the problem and appropriate neurofeedback treatment.
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