Researchers at University of Pittsburgh have developed and tested a cap that cools the brain during sleep, and appears to help people with primary insomnia — sleeplessness not caused by some other condition — find relief. Eric Nofzinger and Daniel Buysse presented their findings on 13 June at a meeting of the Associated Professional Sleep Societies in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
The cap developed by the authors is made of soft plastic and contains tubes filled with circulating water. The water running through the tubes is designed to cool the brain’s frontal cortex. According to the authors, insomnia is associated with increased metabolism in this brain region. Cooling the frontal cortex should help reduce the metabolism in that area of the brain, a process called cerebral hypothermia, and thus encourage sleep.
Nofzinger and Buysse selected 24 subjects from a pool of 110 candidates, 12 with primary insomnia and 12 healthy control subjects, matched in age and gender to the test subjects. Participants with insomnia were about 45 years in age, and nine of the 12 subjects were women.
The researchers measured sleep responses of primary insomnia subjects when not wearing the cap, as well as under various temperatures of the water running through the cap: neutral, moderate, or maximum cooling intensity. During treatment at the maximum cooling intensity, the average time of 13 minutes that it took subjects with primary insomnia to fall asleep and the 89 percent of time in bed that they slept were similar to healthy controls (16 minutes and 89 percent).
Nofziger, who founded a company to commercialize the cap, says this type of treatment meets a demand by primary insomnia sufferers. “The primary medical treatment for insomnia has long been the prescription of hypnotics or sleeping pills,” says Nofziger, “yet only about 25 percent of patients using these treatments are satisfied, citing concerns regarding side effects and the possibility of dependence on a pill to help them sleep at night.”
National Institutes of Health notes that about eight in 10 insomnia sufferers have secondary or comorbid insomnia, which means the disorder is a result of some other condition. Primary insomnia — the condition addressed by the cooling cap — is much less common.
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