At least 40 million Americans each year suffer from chronic, long-term sleep disorders, and an additional 20 million experience occasional sleep problems. Neurofeedback is a powerful tool for regulating sleep. Health professionals around the world report significant improvement in a large percentage of their clients using neurofeedback to treat chronic, long term sleep problems.
The most commonly reported sleep issues that improve with neurofeedback training
- Insomnia – Difficulty falling asleep; difficulty maintaining sleep during the night
- Difficulty waking from sleep
- Difficulty getting to bed
- Not feeling rested after sleep
- Sleeping too long (over 10 hours)
- Physically restless sleep
- Bedwetting (Nocturnal enuresis)
- Restless leg syndrome – Leg discomfort or sleep causing movement & arousal
- Bruxism – teeth grinding during sleep
- Sleep terrors – Abrupt arousal with intense fear, difficult to awaken, no dream recall or memory of event
- Dysregulated sleep patterns/cycles (circadian rhythms)
Neurofeedback training often helps these problems as it improves brain regulation. These are common reports: A 75 year-old reported recently that she “slept like a baby for the first time in 25 years” after neurofeedback training. Parents of children with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) often say it’s easier to get their kids to sleep. Depressed clients remark they have a much easier time getting going in the morning.
The role of the brain and sleep
The brain regulates sleep. Neuroscience has established the role of neuromodulator systems in the brainstem that play a role in maintaining awake states and, conversely, help the brain sleep. The EEG (brainwaves) clearly reflects changes in sleep stages.Training brainwaves using neurofeedback to decrease or increase slow brainwave activity, or to increase specific EEG activation patterns appears to help the brain normalize sleep. Based on reports from a large number of licensed health professionals the evidence shows that training the EEG impacts sleep regulatory mechanisms and people sleep better. Since sleep is complex and involves many systems, it is not possible to suggest that sleep problems always improve as a result of neurofeedback. But clinicians say that they routinely expect changes to occur in sleep patterns after appropriate training for a large percentage of their patients. As with any program, a complete sleep assessment is helpful. Sleep hygiene issues (including caffeine, alcohol and other behavioral factors) and other potential contributory factors such as possible sleep apnea also need to be carefully reviewed and corrected in combination with neurofeedback training.
What research exists
Sleep is a good example of the research challenge of neurofeedback. There are good neurofeedback studies in ADHD, epilepsy and addiction. The fact that no significant studies exist on sleep and neurofeedback is remarkable. In virtually every study related to neurofeedback outcomes, changes to sleep are noted, but not always highlighted or even reported.
Sleep researchers are primarily unaware of neurofeedback and its implications for insomnia and other sleep disorders. Hopefully, cross-fertilization between clinically-oriented therapists and sleep researchers can occur. As in many academic areas, this kind of cross fertilization can take significant time and funding. Because of the vast amount of literature about brain regulation, sleep and the EEG, there is a solid basis for using neurofeedback with sleep problems.
Insomnia is one of the easiest issues to improve with neurotherapy. Many times people who have trouble falling asleep report dramatic improvements with their insomnia in just a few sessions. Some people can fall asleep easily, but then wake in the middle of the night and can’t fall back to sleep. In these cases, neurotherapy may also be very helpful in just a few sessions.
Insomnia is not the only common sleep disorder, and neurotherapy can also help with other issues related to insomnia. For example, many people are plagued by regular nightmares or night terrors. This can be the byproduct of an under aroused brain, and typically can be easily resolved in just a few sessions. We will also mention here, because that strange itching, tingling or crawling sensation in the legs is very common in people who have insomnia or other sleep disturbances. Restless Leg Syndrome is more common in brains that run slow or are under aroused and can be helped with neurotherapy.
Here is a list of issues related to insomnia or associated with sleep that neurotherapy can help
- Nightmares or Night Terrors
- Sleep Paralysis
- Daytime Sleepiness (Hypersomnia)
- Restless Leg Syndrome
- Reduce Side Effects of Sleeping Pill Withdrawal
Do you know anyone who takes naps, falls asleep during meetings, wakes feeling negative most mornings, suffers from nightmares, has trouble following movie plots or gets teary-eyed more than the average person? This is what we call an under-aroused brain. There are a few locations on one’s scalp we can provide beta feedback during a neurotherapy session to train one’s brain to wake up, be full of energy and vitality.
Sometimes people are exhausted when they are naturally energetic – their brains already produce enough beta. In these cases, their brain needs to learn how to take breaks. This person essentially burns themselves out with too much cognitive energy, which is sometimes referred to as nervous energy.
Our assessment tool can tease out the possible causes for fatigue, and train ones brain accordingly.