Lifewatch: Insomnia

NEW YORK-- The quest for rest is a battle more than 60 million Americans fight each night.

Now,  hope for insomnia sufferers could literally be in their hands.  Getting a good night's sleep could be as simple as controlling your temperature.

"I could be very tired, lay down and the bed feels great, the covers feel great, the pillows, the comforter and sleep just doesn't happen," said insomnia sufferer Dennis Barbarito.

Late nights spent tossing and turning took a toll on Barbarito's work, relationships, and health.

"I've tried sleep medications from Klonopin to Ambien, cutting down on my coffee, cutting down on my sugar, not exercising at night, exercising at night to tire myself out, and no matter how I do it when it comes time to sleep it just doesn't happen," said Barbarito.

Finally getting some sleep could come from within.

According to sleep specialists, people's ability to fall asleep is linked with the temperature of their hands and feet.

"The best predictor of whether someone is going to fall asleep or not is an increase in their hand and foot temperature relative to their core," said sleep specialist, Dr. Matthew Ebben.

For normal sleepers, the temperature of their hands and feet increase by about one degree as they doze off.

In a recent study, insomniac participants learned how to change their hand temperatures through "Temperature Biofeedback," a technique that trains the brain to control temperature responses.

"I'll teach them a couple of techniques that are helpful in imagining their hands getting warmer and actually creating more blood flow to the periphery to their hands," said biofeedback specialist, Dr. Robert Udewitz.

At the same time, the insomnia sufferers see a monitor and get immediate feedback on what techniques work best for them.

"We're trying to teach them to control their hand temperature, basically, and then they use that when they go to sleep and we're trying to see whether they fall asleep faster with this technique and it looks like they are," said Dr. Ebben.

According to Dr. Ebben, the technique worked for about 90 percent of participants.

Biofeedback training, and hand-warming in particular, have shown to have benefits for patients with migraines, high blood pressure, and digestive problems.

Read below for more information:

BACKGROUND: Insomnia and sleeplessness are problems that affect most adults at

some point in their lives. An estimated 30 percent to 50 percent of the population are affected by

insomnia and 10 percent have chronic insomnia. According to the National Sleep Foundation, women are 1.3 times more likely to report insomnia more than men and those over age 65 report insomnia 1.5 times more than younger

people. Divorced, widowed and separated individuals also suffer from insomnia more than the general

population. Oftentimes, people will develop insomnia from psychological causes, including stress, anxiety

and depression. Physiological conditions can also lead to sleeplessness. Those include chronic pain syndromes, congestive heart failure, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and degenerative diseases like Alzheimer's disease. Extended periods of sleeplessness can lead to poor concentration, difficulty remembering things, depression, impaired motor coordination, irritability and impaired social interaction.

ACHIEVING SLEEP: Insomnia sufferers will go to great lengths to fall asleep.

Over-the-counter and prescription sleep aids, like zolpidem (Ambien), eszopicione (Lunesta) and

melatonin, help some get to sleep. For many patients, however, medications can become habit forming or

still may not help them achieve sleep. The key to getting some Z's, however, may come in a more natural way.

Studies show as healthy people fall asleep, blood from the core of the body

moves to the limbs. This results in an increase of about one degree Fahrenheit in the hands and feet. In patients with sleep disorders, however, this temperature transfer does not occur. Sleep specialists are now testing temperature biofeedback in insomniacs to replicate the normal temperature response.

For more medical breakthroughs, click here.

Reported by Kristy Ondo