‘Brain Freeze’ Puts Insomniacs to Sleep

Scientific studies have shown that people sleep better when they nudge the thermometer down a few degrees at night. A new sleep study suggests that it’s not just our bodies that respond to a drop in nighttime temperature; our brains also prefer to chill out at night.

In a study that gives a new definition to “brain freeze,” insomniacs fitted with a special cap that cools the brain were able to sleep as long and as well as people with no history of sleep problems. Research has shown that people who suffer from chronic insomnia experience heightened brain activity at bedtime compared to people without insomnia.

Acting on the knowledge that cooling the brain reduces metabolism, researchers in the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine Sleep Neuroimaging Research Program in 2009 designed a plastic cap fitted with tubes filled with cool water. When worn, the cap cooled the brain, decreasing metabolic activity.

In the new study, Pittsburgh researchers tested to see whether using colder water temperatures would improve the sleep-inducing effects of their brain-cooling cap. In tests that varied the water temperature inside the cap, researchers found that colder water decreased the amount of time it took insomniac patients to fall asleep and allowed those patients to sleep as long as patients in a non-insomniac control group.

While additional research is needed, researchers are hopeful that the new discovery will eventually lead to alternative, non-drug treatments for chronic insomnia.

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