Novel insomnia therapy has potential to cure depression, scientists say

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<p>Insomniacs are very familiar with the early-morning clock. Scientists are looking closely into a drug-free insomnia therapy as a possible cure for depression. </p>

Photo: Insomniacs are all too familiar with their clocksScientists in Canada made headlines this month after reporting a promising cure for depression. And it doesn't involve drugs.

The researchers found that when doctors used cognitive behavioral therapy -- a form of talk therapy -- to treat insomnia in depressed patients, it nearly doubled their chances of shaking the depression.

A New York Times editorial said the advance could be the most significant development in the treatment of depression since the introduction of Prozac in 1987.

Conventional wisdom assumes that insomnia is a side effect of depression but this new research shows that the two can be intertwined in more nuanced ways and that insomnia may heavily influence depression.

Colorado Matters wanted to know what it's like for an insomniac (depressed or not) to go through the treatment, so we turned to Vyga Kaufmann of Boulder Sleep Therapy.

Kaufmann is a clinical psychologist and one of just a small handful of sleep therapists in Colorado trained to use cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia or CBTI.

The treatment is designed to cure what Kaufmann calls "inefficient sleep," where people will spend seven or eight hours a night in bed but they're sleeping lightly or not sleeping for much of that time.

"CBTI reconditions patients to feel that bed equals sleep," Kaufmann says.

The treatment, however, is so grueling that some patients liken it to torture because it involves "sleep restriction."

Kaufmann says insomniacs should leave their beds if they're tossing and turning.

"They shouldn't read, eat, worry, make lists, and in some cases they shouldn't even have sex in bed," Kaufmann adds. "They should go to bed and arise at the same times every day -- and that may mean that for the duration of the treatment, they're sleeping no more than four or five hours a night."

Patients also frequently try to bargain their way out of the sleep restriction

"One patient wrote 'screw you' in her sleep diary," Kaufmann adds.

Short-term studies have shown that the treatment typically helps patients get more and better sleep within four to six weeks and the effects last longer than sleeping pills -- and have no side effects.

"[Patients] may not like me during the therapy," Kaufmann says. "But a few months later when they are sleeping like babies, they love me.”