TUESDAY, June 14 (HealthDay News) -- Not only do cooler heads
prevail, they might also sleep better, according to researchers who
say they have developed a cooling cap that, when worn during
sleeptime, may help treat insomnia.
Previous research has shown that the brains of people with
insomnia are "hyperaroused" and have a higher brain metabolism in
the frontal lobes, which helps explain why they have trouble
drifting off to sleep and staying asleep, said study co-author Dr.
Daniel Buysse, a professor of psychiatry and clinical and
translational science at University of Pittsburgh School of
To help the brain cool down, researchers outfitted 12 primary
insomnia patients with a temperature-controlled cap that has cool
water flowing through it and recruited 12 healthy controls matched
for age and gender. ("Primary insomnia" means that medical
problems, medicines, or other substances have been ruled out as a
cause of sleep difficulties. The more common type of insomnia is
"secondary insomnia," in which medical issues or medications
Of the patients with insomnia, the average age was 45 and nine
were women. Participants slept for two nights in a sleep lab with
no cap; two nights with the cap set at a "neutral" temperature
(about 86 degrees Fahrenheit); two nights at a moderately cool
temperature (72 degrees Fahrenheit); and two nights with the
coolest temperature (57 degrees Fahrenheit).
While the participants slept, researchers monitored their brain
electrical activity, eye movements (to determine if someone was in
REM, or rapid eye movement sleep) and jaw muscle tone (during REM,
the muscles go slack due to 'sleep paralysis').
In this preliminary study, about three-quarters of those with
insomnia said the cap helped them sleep better when the water
temperature was about 57 degrees Fahrenheit.
At higher temperatures -- 72 and 86 degrees -- patients reported
no benefit, according to the study presented Monday at SLEEP 2011,
the Associated Professional Sleep Societies meeting in
While wearing the cooling cap, it took insomnia patients an
average of 13 minutes to fall asleep and they spent 89 percent of
their time in bed actually sleeping, about the same as controls who
didn't have insomnia (the latter group averaged 16 minutes to fall
asleep and 89 percent of the time in bed sleeping) .
The cooling cap was, however, associated with an increased
amount of slow-wave sleep -- or the deepest, restorative portion of
sleep, the researchers reported.
"What we wanted to find out was: 'Would cooling the surface of the brain of insomnia patients result in lower metabolism and improved sleep? The basic answer in this preliminary study, is yes, it seems to work, and it works in two ways," said Buysse. "It does reduce brain metabolism in the frontal lobes, and it improves sleep."
Dr. William Kohler, medical director of the Florida Sleep
Institute, said the concept was exciting and worth further research
in larger studies that include body temperature measurements and
brain imaging tests.
"The theoretical concept is correct, in that we do know from many previous studies that as the body core temperature cools, our sleep improves, and with warming of the core temperature, we have more restless sleep," Kohler said.
Chronic insomnia -- which the American Academy of Sleep Medicine
attributes to about one out of every 10 Americans -- can be
difficult to treat. Medications can help, although many people
complain of side effects, Kohler said. The most effective treatment
is cognitive behavior therapy, which involves changes such as
avoiding cigarettes, alcohol and caffeine before bed, and getting
plenty of bright light in the morning but turning off the TV,
computer and dimming the lights during a wind-down period, among
other techniques for improving "sleep hygiene."
"It's in the brain where the chemical changes are occurring that lead to sleep," he said.
The cap is not yet available to consumers, although the lead
researcher, Dr. Eric Nofzinger, has plans to bring it to market,
Because this study was extremely small and presented at a
medical meeting, the data and conclusions should be viewed as
preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed journal and
confirmed in larger studies.
Buysee said there shouldn't be any safety issues. If people get
too cold, they would likely just wake up and take the cap off, he
U.S. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute has
more on insomnia.
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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