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Insomnia Sufferers Have New Therapies Available

A surprising number of Americans struggle with insomnia. The most popular treatment is sleeping pills. Now, there’s a non-prescription alternative for this common problem, called Cognitive Behavioral Therapy.

The end of a good night's sleep... but for an estimated 70 million Americans with insomnia, it is only the end of a night of tossing and turning.

Dr. Edward Stepanski is a sleep specialist at Rush University Medical Center. "Insomnia is difficulty getting to sleep or difficulty staying asleep to the point that it causes some kind of daytime impairment."

While many insomniacs turn to prescriptions -- a $2.1 billion a year business -- these medications are short-term fixes.

Julianne Hill is an insomnia sufferer. "I thought about sleeping morning, noon and night. I'd try to structure my whole day around getting a good night sleep."

For four years, Julianne tried pills, and more exercise, but with little success. "I would stop drinking coffee after ten, I'd make sure I'd work out and work out a lot, and make sure that was done early in the morning."

Finally, Julianne Hill turned to a sleep center for cognitive behavioral therapy -- a sort of retraining of the mind and body in order to induce sleep. "Cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia is a general term that encompasses a whole lot of specific therapeutic approaches, says Dr. Stepanski. “For instance, all relaxation therapies, sleep restriction therapies, stimulus control therapies, sleep hygiene education are all examples of cognitive behavioral therapy."

It may seem counterintuitive, but this therapy actually restricts the amount of time the patient spends in bed. "And so if someone has six hours out of six and a half hours time in bed, they will feel much more refreshed and do much better during the day than if they get the same six hours of sleep spread out over eight and a half or nine hours in bed."

It can be a grueling process, purposefully depriving an already tired body of the sleep it desperately needs.

Julianne agrees. "By the middle of the fifth week, I started sleeping through the night for the first time in four and a half, five years. And for the first time I felt like a human being. I wasn't dependent on the medication; I wasn't dependent on some bizarre routine. I was able to just get a good night's sleep."

A good night's sleep...with patience, and an understanding doctor, that's possible for a growing number of Americans struggling with insomnia.