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UVA Researchers Develop Sleep Program to Treat Insomnia

July 8, 2009

If you have trouble falling asleep and staying asleep, researchers at the University of Virginia may have found the answer, and it's not found in a miracle drug. Researchers say it's found in the click of a mouse.

If tossing and turning at night is normal for you, UVA researchers believe they've come up with a solution for the insomnia. They say logging on to SHUT-I.NET and participating in the interactive exercises explained on the site could help improve your sleeping habits.

"We're very excited about it. What we've done is try to take a treatment that's been shown to be effective in face to face care which is cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia, and transform it for on-line delivery," says Dr. Frances Thorndike, a UVA Sleep Researcher.

The online program isn't on the market yet, because it's only in the trial stages.

So far, more than 40 people have participated in the sleep study, and most patients say their sleep pattern has improved for the better.

"We were very encouraged with our results. We compared it to a group of people who were waiting to receive access to the treatment, and those who are waiting to receive access really had no change in their sleep during that time period," says Dr. Thorndike. "But those who used the Internet intervention improved on a number of sleep variables."

SHUT-I is designed to use interactive graphics, animations, games, and more to present behavioral, educational, and cognitive techniques for improving your sleep.

For example, one prompt asks the user to pick out all the problems with the sleep environment. There are also a number of sleep hygiene rules like not eating too close to the bed, not exercising close to the bed.

"We tell people to save the bed only for sleep and sex. You shouldn't be watching TV or reading a book, so you really retrain your body to only sleep in bed," says Dr. Thorndike.

Although UVA researchers have only tested the new study on 40 people, they hope that one day this program may be available to help insomnia patients around the country.

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