Insomnia-beating cap hailed as breakthrough: How does it work?


(CBS) Does a cool head make for better sleep? Scientists say it does - literally - and have successfully tested a new water-cooled cap that they're calling a breakthrough in the treatment of insomnia.

For a study presented at a sleep conference in Minneapolis on Monday, scientists fitted the soft plastic cap on 12 people who suffer from primary insomnia (not caused by medicines or other health problems) and turned out the lights.

What happened? The insomniacs drifted off to sleep almost as fast as control subjects who do not have insomnia (16 minutes vs. 13 minutes) and spent just as much of their bedtime fast asleep (89 percent of the time).

The study showed the cap to be "a safe, non-pharmaceutical mechanism that can be made widely available for home use," study author Dr. Eric Nofzinger, director of the sleep neuroimaging research program at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, said in a written statement released by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine. "We believe this has far-ranging implications for how insomnia can be managed in the future," he said, adding that he considered the cap a "long-awaited breakthrough for insomnia sufferers.

How does the cap work? It seems to lower the state of "hyperarousal"- caused by conflict, anxiety, and fear - that previous research has shown exists in the brains of people suffering from insomnia, which affects an estimated one in 10 adults.

Nofzinger plans to develop a commercial version of the cap, Healthday reported. But just how long that might take is unclear, Dr. James Wyatt, director of the sleep disorders service at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago, told CBS News. But he called the cap research "innovative" and "highly significant," adding that the cap "may be helpful for people who don't respond to other options for insomnia," such as drug therapy and behavioral therapy.

The National Sleep Foundation has more on insomnia.