James Walsh, PhD, National Sleep Foundation Insomnia Council, says people who consistently lack sound, quality sleep experience a significant level of performance problems during the day. "We know that people who are sleepy are less productive and more prone to accidents -- on the road and at home," says Walsh, executive director of St. Luke's Hospital Sleep Medicine and Research Center in St. Louis and of the National Sleep Foundation's Insomnia Council.
The National Institutes of Health says insomnia is not defined by the number of hours of sleep a person gets or how long it takes to fall asleep, as individuals vary in their need for sleep. Insomnia may be classified as transient (lasting from a single night to a few weeks), intermittent, or chronic (occurring most nights and lasting a month or more).
In the study, the students with insomnia who were given relaxation therapy received three sessions, in which they were taught techniques for relaxing 16 muscle groups over a 20-minute period. The students were asked to practice the technique at home twice a day, including at bedtime. All the participating students were asked to keep sleep diaries during the two-week study.
While the students who used the relaxation technique reported small to moderate improvements in sleep quality and duration, there was no corresponding improvement in their functioning during the day, even though they did say they felt less sleepy during their waking hours.
"It could be the length of treatment was too short," Means says. Other studies have shown increases in quality of sleep after five to eight weeks of relaxation practices. This study lasted only two weeks.
Means believes that insomniacs who continued to practice relaxation after the study ended could very well see greater improvements later on. "As they become more proficient with the technique, I suspect their daytime functioning ultimately will improve," she says.