A woman sitting up in her bed, in desperate need of insomnia treatment.

Scientists test both a real and fake insomnia treatment.

Insomnia is not only a serious condition, it’s practically unbearable. Over time, a lack of sleep will affect the mind and body, causing emotional and physical disorders. For example, the CDC list diabetes, cardiovascular disease, obesity, and depression as chronic diseases connected to poor sleep. Scientists may have found an insomnia treatment that works, and it may not be a treatment at all.

Testing Real and Fake Insomnia Treatment

Neurofeedback is an exercise with positive results that trains the brain. During this treatment, the brain’s activity is monitored using electrodes. Researchers are trying to find out if tricking the brain with a fake or placebo neurofeedback treatment will produce positive results.

In a relatively small study, featuring 30 patients with insomnia, researchers tested both forms of neurofeedback. All patients completed 12 sessions of neurofeedback and 12 sessions of placebo neurofeedback treatment over the course of four weeks. During eight nights in a sleep laboratory, the patient’s sleep-wake cycle was monitored.

The Results

Both forms of neurofeedback proved to be an effective insomnia treatment. Scientists found no difference between the two. However, there is one concern among the researchers. They are unsure whether or not patients are reacting to the treatment or their care at the hands of experimenters. This is because most of the participants felt they were treated well and with compassion during their nights in the sleep laboratory.

“Given our results,” said lead author Manuel Schabus, “one has to question how much of published neurofeedback effects are due to simple expectations on the side of the participants or, in other words, unspecific placebo effects.”

These calls into question what is really affecting how patients sleep. Is a little kindness all it takes or did the neurofeedback truly have an effect? In the end, more studies on insomnia need to be performed to find out what works best.