Counting Sheep

Published January 1, 2003

More than 70 million Americans suffer from insomnia–one of the main reasons people see their doctors. According to the National Sleep Foundation’s poll, 35 percent of all adults have symptoms of insomnia every night, and 58 percent report insomnia at least a few nights a week.

Now there’s emerging evidence you might want to re-think taking that sleeping pill. A new study suggests you might be better off reading a book. The first treatment for insomnia could be cognitive behavioral therapy, not sleeping pills.

With cognitive therapy, therapists taught participants to recognize, challenge, and change patterns that kept them awake. They were told to set a regular time to go to bed and to get up in the morning. If they couldn’t fall asleep within a half-hour, they should get up and engage in another quiet activity, such as reading.

Gregg Jacobs, an insomnia specialist at the Sleep Disorders Center of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, and his team randomly assigned 63 patients with chronic insomnia to one of four groups: sleeping pills alone; sleeping pills plus therapy; therapy plus a placebo; or cognitive behavioral therapy alone.

For patients using therapy alone, there was a 52 percent reduction in the time it took to get to sleep, compared with a 29 percent reduction among patients taking sleeping pills alone.

Contact the National Sleep Foundation for more information about insomnia.

IT’S YOUR HEALTH is written by Conrad Meier, senior fellow in health policy at The Heartland Institute. This program is produced as a public service by Radio America. Meier passed away unexpectedly on March 18, 2005.