Therapy Beats Pills For Insomnia

New research shows that sleep therapy from a psychologist is more effective than medication for people who have difficulty sleeping, reports The Early Show medical correspondent Dr. Emily Senay.

Insomnia is defined as difficulty falling asleep or maintaining sleep which results in impaired functioning during the day. Millions of people in this country suffer from it. It's one of the most common problems people complain about when they visit the doctor.

The most recent poll showed that 35 percent of adults report insomnia every night, and 58 percent report insomnia at least a few nights per week.

The most frequently recommended treatment for insomnia is a prescription for sleeping pills, but another option is a referral to a psychologist to undergo therapy to learn relaxation techniques and other behaviors to help fall asleep.

A new study in this morning's Archives of Internal Medicine finds that sleep therapy with a psychologist is more effective than a popular sleeping pill for treating insomnia.

Researchers compared the benefits of the psychological techniques to the drug zolpidem, or Ambien, one of the most frequently prescribed sleeping pills. The study found that talk therapy techniques resulted in better short- and long-term results in getting into a normal sleep pattern in young and middle-aged adults.

This is the first study to compare the effects of the two different therapies alone and in combination, and the researchers said that so-called cognitive behavior therapy should be the first thing a person with insomnia should try.

The study found the pills are only moderately effective, compared to the psychological techniques, and they lose their effectiveness as soon as the patient stops taking them, normally about eight weeks. There are other problems associated with long-term use of sleeping pills like dependency, daytime drowsiness and performance impairment and other sleep disturbances.

There are a lot of behavior modifications and relaxation techniques to try, even without seeing a professional:

  • maintain a regular sleep schedule - even on the weekends.
  • exercise regularly.
  • establish relaxing bedtime rituals like reading or soaking in a tub to send a signal to your body that it's time to go to sleep.
  • establish an environment conducive for sleep - cool, quiet, dark, comfortable and free of interruptions.
  • use your bed for sleep and sex only.

    If you do not fall asleep within 15 or 20 minutes of going to bed and turning out the lights, get out of bed and try another relaxing activity until you feel sleepy again. Avoid caffeine, nicotine. Avoid alcohol and heavy meals before bed.