Relaxation Techniques May Help Insomniacs Sleep

From the WebMD Archives

July 20, 2000 -- Researchers at the University of Memphis found that teaching a relaxation technique to college students with insomnia could help them sleep. But they also found that improved sleep did not, in turn, help these students function any better the next day.

Researcher Melanie K. Means tells WebMD that while most sleep studies focus on improving the quality of sleep, there hasn't been as much research on the effect of a good night's sleep on daytime performance. "The belief is if sleep improves, so will performance," says Means, a graduate student in the university's psychology department. "We weren't so sure that was so."

In the National Sleep Foundation's 1999 survey, "Sleep in America," 62% of adult Americans reported having slept poorly during the past year. Of those, only 4% said they were seeing a doctor or other health care provider for advice or treatment. According to the survey, 56% reported experiencing one or more symptoms of insomnia, including difficulty falling asleep, waking during the night, waking too early, and awaking feeling unrefreshed.

College students, as a group, are known for poor sleep. For the Memphis study, the researchers recruited 118 undergraduate psychology students, just under half of whom complained of insomnia. The 57 insomniacs were further divided into two groups: 28 were given instructions in programmed relaxation, while the rest received no treatment.

The students in the study ranged from 17 to 44 years old, with an average age of 21. Those in the insomnia group had been experiencing sleep difficulties for an average of just more than 3 1/2 years. Nearly 70% of the students with insomnia were female, which is not surprising. The National Sleep Foundation estimates that 40% or more of females have trouble sleeping, compared to 30% of males. Their greater incidence of sleep problems may be at least partially due to hormonal shifts from menstruation, and later from pregnancy and menopause.

For the study, which was published in the journal Behavior Research and Therapy, students were considered to be suffering from insomnia if they had sleep problems lasting at least two months, including:

  • trouble falling asleep
  • waking up during the night
  • waking earlier than they wanted
  • dissatisfaction with sleep
  • inability to function the next day due to tiredness