Research at the Glasgow Sleep Centre

Published: 7 July 2008

The Glasgow Sleep Centre has developed an intervention programme designed to help insomniacs establish more normal sleep patterns.

Did you sleep well last night?

If you didn’t, you’re not the only one. Insomnia is the most common mental health problem in the UK. In Glasgow alone, 11 million sleeping pills were consumed last year. And yet there are only a handful of centres in the world dedicated to frontline research that tries to understand sleep disturbance of this type.

The Glasgow Sleep Centre, based within the Section of Psychological Medicine at the University of Glasgow, is one such centre. Formed by University of Glasgow Professor Colin Espie, the four-bedded research unit monitors people’s sleep patterns objectively using Electroencephalography (EEG). EEG measures electrical activity produced by the brain using electrodes placed on the scalp. The generated signals are sent to the centre’s control room using Bluetooth technology. Research of this type has helped the creation of the Glasgow Model – a five week intervention programme designed to help restore insomniacs to more normal sleep patterns using a psychological approach called cognitive behavioural therapy.

“A lot of people think that psychological approaches are rather mysterious and difficult because everyone is different,” explains Professor Espie, “but what we’ve done that’s new is to standardise our approach into a set of procedures that can work in a real world setting because you don’t need a highly-trained specialist to run it. In simple terms what it involves is addressing the mental and habit factors that sustain poor sleep and transferring those to strategies that are effective in restoring good sleep.”

Professor Espie and his team recently collaborated with Cancer Research UK and the Beatson Institute to conduct research into helping cancer patients suffering from sleeplessness. Despite the fact that roughly a third of cancer patients report symptoms of insomnia, sleeplessness and fatigue are neglected areas of cancer care. The study looked at 150 patients who had recently completed treatment for breast, colorectal, prostate and gynaecological cancers, and were suffering from insomnia. This randomised trial offered two-thirds of them access to the Glasgow Model cognitive behavioural therapy.

According to Dr Leanne Fleming, one of the project researchers, many of the patients entering the study were finding their inability to sleep severely debilitating. “One of my patients talked about having to drag herself up the path to her house and sit down to prevent herself from being physically sick,” says Dr Fleming. “This was someone who was not talking about her cancer, but about how her insomnia made her so physically exhausted she could hardly function.”

Those patients who took part in the Glasgow Model therapy reported an average improvement of 55 minutes more sleep a night as well as a significant reduction in fatigue – benefits that were sustained six months after treatment. The study is to be reported in the Journal of Clinical Oncology.

For their next project, Professor Espie and his colleagues at the University of Glasgow Sleep Centre, in partnership with the US National Institutes of Health, are to embark on a new set of studies looking more closely at the factors that cause persistent insomnia.

“Poor sleep is a risk factor for not coping, for getting depressed and indeed for medical illness,” says Professor Espie. “Everyone knows to look after waking habits such as their diet and their exercise regime, but sleeping habits have not really come to the fore yet. Particularly when the political agenda is not just about illness but about wellbeing and quality of life, we shouldn’t be waiting until people have an illness before we treat them.”

Further information:
The Glasgow Sleep Centre

First published: 7 July 2008

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