We have completed an in-house clinical study to evaluate the effectiveness of The Sleep School approach. We tracked the sleeping patterns of 14 chronic insomnia sufferers for one year after they attended a one-day workshop in central London. The results showed significant improvements across a wide range of sleep measures, with the majority of individuals reaching ‘Normal Sleeping’ status, despite having previously suffered from insomnia for over two decades. Below you will find a brief outline of the study and our findings, as well as the scientific rationale behind The Sleep School approach.
What We Did
14 participants attended a one-day workshop in central London. The group included 8 females and 6 males, with an average age of 46 years ±7, all of who had suffered from insomnia for an average of 10 years ±7 years.
Life stress, anxiety, and work stress were reported as the most common their insomnia triggers. All had tried a range of other approaches prior to the workshop, none of which had worked. These included drug therapy (87%), traditional Cognitive Behavioural Therapy for insomnia (57%) and hypnotherapy (27%). Over half the group (52%) were still taking medication at the start of the study.
To establish a baseline level of the participants’ insomnia severity, a series of sleep, mindfulness, and acceptance measures were taken 1 week before the workshop and then at 5 & 10 weeks, and at 6 & 12 months following the workshop.
What We Found
Significant improvements in all self-recorded sleep measurements were reported for the group, including:
30% increase in total sleep time From 4.8hrs to 6.8hrs
75% decrease in the time taken to fall to sleep From 50mins to 15mins
72% decrease in the time taken to fall back to sleep From 90mins to 25mins
The changes in sleep data were also supported by significant reductions in self-recorded insomnia severity levels, with the average severity halving from pre-workshop levels (*Clinical Insomnia) to 5 weeks (*Sub-threshold Insomnia) and then continuing to drop to ‘Normal Sleep’ levels from 10 weeks to 1 year.
Over the year, the attendees’ level of mindful awareness increased significantly from baseline to 43%, reaching a level considered to be above than that of the normal population. After the workshop, their attitude towards insomnia also shifted from highly agreeing with ‘avoidance’ statements (eg. ‘I need to concentrate on getting rid of my insomnia’) towards ‘acceptance’ statements (eg. ‘I am getting on with the business of living no matter how I sleep’). Over the course of the year, the ‘acceptance’ attitude significantly increased (by 60%), whereas the ‘avoidance’ attitude decreased (by 41%).
What Does This Mean?
The results demonstrate significant improvements in sleep quality within 5 weeks with further improvements occurring over the year.
In line with The Sleep School approach, the underlying mechanisms for this change appear to be related to participants’ increased willingness to experience their insomnia, whilst getting on with and valuing their lives. This was achieved by regularly practising mindfulness and acceptance-based tools, as well as by setting and acting upon valued-based goals.
Based on neuroimaging research, it is possible to speculate that the shift towards accepting behaviours could have also elicited various structural changes within participant’s brains. These include reductions in the volume of the Amygdala (the brain’s worry centre) and increases in the volume of the pre-frontal cortex (the area responsible for rational thought and emotional regulation). If such changes occurred, the associated lowering of arousal levels could explain the reported significant improvements in sleep.
This research joins a growing body of initial clinical research from around the world proving the effectiveness of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy for adult Chronic Insomnia.
Top Tips from The Sleep School’s Five-Step Approach
Discover: Sleep is a natural physiological process that can’t be controlled, and having a reliance on unnatural nighttime rituals or props (e.g. warm baths, pills, alcohol etc.) can fuel sleep anxiety and promote sleeplessness. Follow a normal and regular wind down each night to retrain your brain to sleep.
Accept: Worrying about the poor quality of your sleep in the past, or imagining how bad things will be in the future if you don’t sleep, only helps to increase night-time arousal levels. Noticing things objectively and without judgment in the present moment, like the touch of your duvet on your toes or the gentle movement of air in and out of your nose, can actually promote sleep.
Welcome: Fearful thoughts or strong emotional reactions such as anxiety can keep you more awake. Learning to change your relationship with such thoughts and feelings by getting to know them and even welcoming them when they arrive will reduce arousal levels and lessen your struggle to sleep.
Build: Go to bed and get up at ‘roughly’ the same time every night. This will help you keep your body clock on time and promote your natural drive to sleep. If you are awake at night, choose to stay in bed and conserve your energy by lying still resting and be mindful of whatever shows up.
Live: The fear of not sleeping drives us to stop living our lives. For example, it can drive us out of our bedroom and into the spare room, or make us avoid going out at night with friends. Commit to making small actions every day that take you closer to what is important to you in your life. A happy and contented brain is a sleepy brain!