Musical Tones Treat Insomnia
November 20, 2012

Can’t Sleep? Try Music To Treat Your Insomnia

Alan McStravick for — Your Universe Online

If you have trouble falling or staying asleep, you are not alone. Approximately 48 percent of Americans have reported having occasional insomnia with 22 percent claiming they suffer from insomnia on a frequent or even nightly basis.

Insomnia is a symptom, not a condition. It can be caused by a host of issues like anxiety, stress, depression, disease or pain. Also, the use of certain over-the-counter and prescription medications can bring on restlessness and sleeplessness.

Those who suffer from insomnia long enough will have tried several possible remedies to alleviate their inability to sleep. Whether it is a glass of warm milk at bedtime or a sleep aid intended to induce sleep, insomnia is fought across many different avenues. Some, sufferers will find, are less successful than others. New research out of Wake Forest Baptist University addresses how the use of a non-drug, non-invasive measure might be effective in balancing brain activity to lessen the effects of insomnia.

In their pilot clinical study, the researchers utilized an approach using musical tones in an attempt to balance the sufferer´s brain activity. They believed the use of these tones could effectively “reset” the brain and reduce the effects of insomnia.

According to Charles H. Tegeler, MD, professor of neurology at Wake Forest Baptist and the principal investigator on the study, the technology they were utilizing was intended to work with the brain´s natural waves. “The human brain is made up of the left and right hemispheres that work together as parallel processors. When a person undergoes trauma or a major stressor, their autonomic survival responses kick in and the brain can become unbalanced. If those imbalances persist, symptoms such as insomnia can result. Our study looked at new technology that is intended to facilitate greater balance and harmony in brain frequencies, which may result in improved symptoms,” stated Tegeler.

The researchers published their study online in October, in advance of print publication in the journal Brain and Behavior. They received grant funding from Brain State Technologies, LLC, of Scottsdale, Arizona, in the amount of $26,696. Brain State Technologies, LLC, is the company that owns the technology used in the study.

HIRREM, or high-resolution, relational, resonance-based, electroencephalic mirroring, is known by its commercial name, Brainwave Optimization. The non-invasive procedure utilizes a system designed to reflect the brain´s frequencies back to itself using musical tones. The resonance of the musical tones and the electrical energy in a person´s brain can bring balance to the two hemispheres of the brain.

Researchers began their study by measuring each of the twenty participant´s ratings on the Insomnia Severity Index (ISI) which determines the severity of sleep disruption by using a zero-to-28 point scale. The median ISI for the participants was between 18.7 and 18.9. At this level, the participants were considered to be suffering from moderate-to-severe insomnia.

The study, an unblended, wait-list control, crossover study enrolled 20 participants, consisting of 14 women and 6 men. Half the group was randomly selected to receive the HIRREM sessions, plus usual care. The remaining 10 were put into the wait-list control group. In addition to measuring each participants ISI, blood pressure and neurocognitive function were also monitored.

The 10 participants in the initial HIRREM group experienced a 10.3 point drop in their ISI measurement, resulting in improved insomnia symptoms. Clinically, they were re-classified as having ℠no insomnia´ or ℠sub-threshold insomnia´. The control subjects, on the other hand, continued their existing insomnia treatments but did not undergo the HIRREM therapy. Their results showed no change in their ISI scores. It wasn´t until after the wait-list control group was also given HIRREM therapy that their ISI scores also dropped to the same levels as the initial group.

In the study, as subjects underwent the HIRREM therapy, they were subjected to between 8 and 12 sessions, each lasting between 60 and 90 minutes. The subjects were seated in a zero gravity chair and had sensors placed on numerous locations on the scalp. The tone each subject received was determined by a mathematic algorithm that was based upon the dominant frequency in a floating middle range of the participant´s EEG frequencies. This tone was played back to the participant through ear buds. The resonance between the musical tones and oscillating brain circuits was designed to allow the brain to auto-calibrate, which affected a state of balance in the brain and alleviated symptoms of insomnia.

The researchers acknowledge that the results from the study do have their limitations. The first is related to the small number of participants that were studied. Also, the absence of a sham-placebo control group, which prevented blinding the study, was recognized as a liability to their results. This means that, without further study, they may find that the possible changes in ISI might actually be a placebo effect. Also, as HIRREM therapy involves social interaction and relaxation, there may be other, non-specific mechanisms responsible for the symptom improvement, in addition to the tonal mirroring. Tegeler does believe his results have merit, however, and he intends to conduct a larger clinical trial that will utilize a sham placebo. He hopes that he will be able to confirm the HIRREM effect and also further explore this burgeoning technology and how it can aid those with insomnia.