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Biofeedback and progressive relaxation treatment of sleep-onset insomnia

A controlled, all-night investigation

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Abstract

Previous research suggests that self-defined insomniacs are distinguished from normals by high levels of anxiety and physiological arousal, which might be mitigated by muscle relaxation. This study assessed the relative effects of frontal EMG biofeedback, progressive relaxation, and a placebo set of “relaxation” exercises on the sleep of 18 onset insomniacs. Each subject was trained in one of these three methods for six half-hour sessions and slept in the laboratory for two consecutive nights before and after training. The experimental groups demonstrated significant decreases in physiological activity during training while changes in the control group were minimal. Reductions in sleep-onset time were: biofeedback group, 29.66 minutes; progressive relaxation group, 22.92 minutes; control group, 2.79 minutes. The experimental groups improved significantly(p<.05) more than the control group, but did not differ from each other. No significant relationships between physiological levels and sleep-onset time were found, which suggests that muscle relaxation alone was not responsible for subjects' improvements. Since 20 minutes of daily practice were required to achieve an approximate 30-minute decrease in sleep-onset time, the practical utility of the methods is questioned.

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Freedman, R., Papsdorf, J.D. Biofeedback and progressive relaxation treatment of sleep-onset insomnia. Biofeedback and Self-Regulation 1, 253–271 (1976). https://doi.org/10.1007/BF01001167

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