Talk therapy key to conquering insomnia - study

CHICAGO, May 19 (Reuters) - Teaching insomniacs how to fall asleep through talk therapy produces better results than continued use of sleep medications that carry dependency risks, according to a study released on Tuesday.

In a study of 160 adults diagnosed with chronic insomnia, researchers at Laval University in Quebec, Canada, compared talk therapy with the popular sleeping aid zolpidem, sold under the brand name Ambien by Sanofi-Aventis SASY.PA but also available generically.

Insomnia is very common and can lead to depression and high blood pressure, according to the report published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

In the six-week initial period, both weekly group therapy sessions and nightly medication worked equally well, helping around 60 percent of the patients get to sleep more quickly and sleep longer, researcher Charles Morin wrote.

During the six-month follow-up period, patients who had refresher therapy sessions had better sleep than those offered drugs to take as needed, he said.

“The best long-term outcome was obtained with patients treated with combined therapy initially, followed by (talk therapy) alone,” Morin wrote. “Although the present findings are promising, there is currently no treatment that works for every patient with insomnia.”

Zolpidem is recommended for short periods. Side effects include morning drowsiness and hallucinations if sleep does not arrive right away, and drug dependence is not uncommon. There have also been reports of sleepwalking, sleep driving, binge eating and talking while sleeping on the drug.

Most effective against insomnia in the follow-up period were bimonthly individual talk therapy sessions where patients could address residual issues causing them to lose sleep.

In therapy, patients were instructed to only sleep in bed and to avoid reading, watching television or spending time worrying in bed. They were told to get up if unable to sleep after 20 minutes and return to bed only when sleepy again, and to arise at the same time every morning.

Reporting by Andrew Stern; Editing by Maggie Fox