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How Insomnia Research Has Influenced Known Treatments

Insomnia research can be carried out by being monitored at home or as a clinical test in a sleep laboratory. Research into sleep deprivation was not a main focus until the 1960's. Before this time, the word 'insomnia' was rarely mentioned in documented studies.

Back then, neurologists and psychiatrists were preoccupied with the significance of dreams and nightmares. Later on in the decade, thorough tests were performed in laboratories to assess how successful prescription drugs, over-the-counter medication and herbs for insomnia were at alleviating the condition's symptoms.

Although the term insomnia can be used in a loose sense to describe any form of sleep deprivation, it is only diagnosed if a person is experiencing the symptoms for longer than one month at a time and if these symptoms are negatively affecting their overall health. 

Insomnia studies are still carried out today on individuals and large groups in an enduring effort to improve medication and treatment. Over the years, critical breakthroughs have been achieved as a result of various investigations and will continue to be achieved in the future.

One way in which a doctor can conduct insomnia research is to ask a patient to keep a sleep diary.  This is a good starting point and will show any irregularities in sleep hygiene and routine. A person using a diary tracker may naturally discover problems they can fix themselves and learn how to regulate their sleeping pattern, and support their natural body clock.

insomnia researchThe Epworth Sleepiness Scale (ESS) was first introduced in 1991 by Dr Murray Johns from Australia. it is used to measure daytime fatigue in the form of a brief questionnaire. As well as insomnia research, the results obtained from this questionnaire can shed light on other sleep related disorders, such as sleep apnea and narcolepsy. 

There are eight questions in total and when adding up the score of the answers a single number is produced. The questions are in reference to how likely a person is to fall asleep in different situations during the day e.g. watching television or reading a book. 

The main advantage of this test is that it is brief and easy for any person to complete. On the flip side, a problem with the scale is that the score is subjective. Individuals may express signs of weariness or exhaustion rather than excessive daytime sleepiness. A related scoring tool is the Pittsburgh Sleep Quality Index (PSQI). This also measures the quality of sleep patterns in adults by means of a self-filled questionnaire.

Sleep studies are carried out to find out what is causing your problems, by testing what happens when you sleep. These studies can discover the root of the cause and find out how complex it is. The most common sleep study test is performed through a polysomnography, which is usually carried out in a snoring center, a laboratory or hospital and has the purpose of recording many different body functions during sleep. 

insomnia researchThe standard procedure is for a patient to be wired up in the evening so the data channels can start recording as he or she begins the sleep process. Throughout the procedure, a technician will be present to observe the patient, record information and attach the necessary electrodes. 

With regards to insomnia research specifically, the polysomnography and overnight stay is unnecessary. However, it is used to diagnose other sleep disorders as well, that could be causing a patient's insomnia. 

Insomnia Studies Show The Role of Genetics for Sleep

In 1977, a sleep diagnostic tool known as the Multiple Sleep Latency Test (MSLT) was created by two sleep experts. This test adopts the principle that people will fall asleep faster if they are sleepier, and measures sleep latency. 

insomnia researchIn a similar way to a polysomnography, this is not a test predominantly used for insomnia studies but it looks at other disorders that could be contributing factors. The types of human behavior monitored and recorded in a MSLT are brain wave activity, heart rate, eye movement and muscle tone

Another test using similar methods is a Maintenance of wakefulness test (MWT) that determines whether you can remain awake and alert during daytime hours. The sleep actigraphy method may be suggested by your doctor as a form of insomnia research. The wrist device used in this process can be worn at home by the patient and can also test activity throughout the day.  

Actigraphs are typically used to do tests on larger groups as the full process is cheaper than completing a polysomnography.


A lot of insomnia research is carried out in line with therapy, as 50% of all diagnosed insomnia cases are related to disorders of the mind. Behavioral and cognitive therapies have been proven to alleviate patients' symptoms much more efficiently than medication alone.


Here are some of the techniques that have been developed in cognitive behavioral therapy when focusing on an insomnia patient:

  • Stimulus control therapy aims to condition the mind to refrain from falling asleep unless it is a natural sleep time;
  • Improving the environment in which you are sleeping  e.g. ensuring the room is dark, quiet and comfortable;
  • Progressive relaxation techniques so the mind and body are both ready for sleep ;
  • Paradoxical intention is the ability to remain passively awake. It is a calculated practice to help the patient let go of the worries about his or her inability to sleep;
  • Sleep hygiene involves focusing on other aspects of life and how they affect sleep. Anything that could be harmful to quality of sleep, and can be changed by a different way of thinking, will be altered over time;
  • Sleep restriction decreases the amount of time spent in bed not sleeping. This restriction encourages patients to view the bedroom as a place for rest and not a lounging area to watch television or use smartphones and tablets.

Insomnia studies are extremely beneficial for sufferers of both mild and chronic insomnia. Whether they are carried out on an individual to assess their unique problem or performed on a larger scale to gather important information, all tests are worthwhile. Patients may discover they have been suffering unnecessarily, making it easier for them to take simple steps to treat their symptoms. 

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