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Insomnia Strategy: Let the Brain Listen to Itself

sleepless man awake in bed with alarm clock in foreground
Sam Wordley/Shutterstock

The inability to sleep affects over 35% of the population in the United States alone, according to the CDC. While there are prescription sleep aids available, they tend to have side effects and can become addictive. A new natural method of getting some shuteye shows promise, though.

Acoustic Mirror

In tests run at Wake Forest Baptist Health in North Carolina, researchers gathered a group of 107 adults with moderate to severe insomnia, splitting them into a placebo group and a test group. Every day for three weeks, each test-group participant received treatment via a high-resolution, relational, resonance-based electroencephalic mirroring (HIRREM) machine that turned their brainwaves into sound, which was then played back to them through headphones. The sessions lasted one hour each.

Not only did study participants who received the treatment report instant relief from insomnia after the treatment, but four months later 78% of the HIRREM group reported no significant insomnia symptoms. What’s more, participants who received the treatment also saw notable improvements in two key health indicators: heart rate variability (HRV), which provides an indication of the health of the nervous system, and baroreflex sensitivity (BRS), a measure of blood pressure regulation.

After the study, the HIRREM group had five times the improvement in their HRV, and twice the improvement in BRS than the placebo group.

Reset Button

The researchers believe the method currently provided by Arizona-based company Cereset works because allowing the brain to observe itself gives it the chance to reset itself and smooth out stress patterns. It also seems to help provide a balance between the brain’s two hemispheres.

“These findings add to the rapidly growing interest in neuromodulation and demonstrate that a brief intervention with closed-loop acoustic stimulation can improve sleep in a meaningful way, while also improving autonomic function,” said principal investigator Charles H. Tegeler, M.D., chair of neurology at Wake Forest School of Medicine. “It’s an important alternative approach for people who suffer from insomnia.”

The study has been published in the peer-reviewed journal, Brain and Behavior.