June 15, 2007 / 5:37 PM / 12 years ago

Guided imagery therapy can help insomniacs

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - A technique called imagery rehearsal therapy not only helps chronic insomniacs get a good night’s sleep, it also seems to help lessen depression and anxiety, according to research presented this week at SLEEP 2007 — the 21st annual meeting of the Associated Professional Sleep Societies.

“Imagery therapy is something people can teach themselves to do,” Dr. Yara Molen, of Federal University of Sao Paulo in Brazil, noted in a telephone interview with Reuters Health.

Molen studied 24 chronic insomnia sufferers. All of them participated in a 2-hour meeting over a 5-week period during which they received standard education on sleep hygiene and stimulus control, and knowledge about beliefs and attitudes that are not conducive to good sleep.

Twelve of subjects in the experimental arm were also taught how to practice imagery therapy. “They listened to an audio CD right before bed that teaches breathing, relaxation and guided imagery that helps them get rid of their worries and imagine drifting off to sleep,” Molen explained.

“Worries, as well as anxiety and depression, disturb a lot of sleeping in a lot of people,” she said. “People have to discover the emotions behind the worries and release their worries before going to bed. This CD helps them do that.”

Insomniacs practicing nightly imagery rehearsal therapy reported an improvement in both sleep quantity and quality. “Total time of sleep increased 30 minutes compared with a control group not practicing imagery therapy,” Molen said.

“We also saw a diminution of depression rates and anxiety with imagery therapy,” Molen added. Worries about sleep improved in both groups but more so in the guided imagery group.

Molen’s guided imagery sleep audio CD is currently for research purposes only, but she has plans to market it.

It’s estimated that 30 percent of adults suffer with chronic insomnia. Lack of sleep is known to adversely affect physical health, emotional well-being, mental abilities, productivity and performance. Recent studies have also linked lack of sleep with an increased risk of depression, obesity, heart disease and diabetes.

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