Sleep restriction therapy does not interfere with insomnia patient’s driving ability, research shows

The use of Sleep Restriction Therapy to help treat adults with insomnia is under-recognized – despite encouraging results since it was first introduced in the late 1980s.

The problem, as Flinders University sleep psychologist Dr Michael Gradisar believes, is that not enough clinical testing has been done to confirm the functioning and capabilities of people affected by insomnia as they go through the therapy – which is why his latest research is important for presenting results about how SRT doesn’t interfere with a patient’s ability to perform such tasks as driving a car.

The results are identified in the paper Daytime sleepiness, driving performance, reaction time and inhibitory control during sleep restriction therapy for Chronic Insomnia Disorder, by Hannah Whittall, Meg Pillion and Michael Gradisar. (Published in Sleep Medicine journal  https://doi.org/10.1016/j.sleep.2017.10.007)

“We wanted to clarify all aspects of this, to confirm that what we are doing with SRT is not dangerous,” says Dr Gradisar. “What we found is strongly supportive of SRT.”

Dr Gradisar’s concerns reflect the untapped extent of sleep issues affecting a significant proportion of our society. An estimated 20% of adults have trouble falling asleep, experience frequent awakenings during the night, and feel tired in the morning. However, despite this, only 6.9% of the population are diagnosed with Chronic Insomnia Disorder.

The need to keep finding effective sleep improvement treatments is therefore of critical importance, and Sleep Restriction Therapy is an effective treatment component of cognitive-behavior therapy for insomnia. This is why his team investigated the objective and subjective daytime consequences during the acute phase of SRT for adults diagnosed with Chronic Insomnia Disorder.

While the restriction of sleep can induce excessive daytime sleepiness and reaction times, the trial found that the application of SRT according to recent guidelines (set down by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine in 2017) led to an average decrease in sleep duration of 32 minutes.

Importantly, the trial showed that no significant changes in sleepiness, reaction times or driving were found while insomnia patients underwent two weeks of SRT.

“It was interesting to find out that participants did not have impairments to their driving or reaction times when sleep was reduced by 32 minutes per night", says paper co-author Hannah Whittall.

Dr Gradisar hopes these findings will lead to a greater uptake of SRT by sleep therapists, and he encourages further trials to reinforce greater confidence among sleep therapists to employ SRT.

Co-author of the paper Meg Pillion stated:

SRT is easy for clients to learn and therapists to implement, and the benefits of using it could be seen within 2 weeks.

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