Pitt’s Agewise Insomnia Research Program Nears 100 Patient Milestone

By: Rick Pietzak

Insomia can be more than just a nuisance for as many as 30 percent of older adults suffering from it.

The inability to sleep is associated with a number of health problems ranging from depression to diabetes, resulting in many people turning to medicine or spending more time in bed trying to catch up on missed sleep. This spring, the AgeWise sleep research study at the University of Pittsburgh, led by Daniel Buysse, M.D., and Timothy Monk, Ph.D., will treat its 100th older adult insomnia patient using therapies which do not involve sleeping pills.

The AgeWise study, funded by a grant from the U.S. National Institute on Aging, aims to find out what causes insomnia and how best to treat it.

“Sleeping pills are effective, at least in the short term. But they can have significant side effects, including sedation, memory problems, and unusual sleep-related behaviors. Behavioral treatments can provide a safe and effective alternative,” said Dr. Buysse.

Researchers at the AgeWise program hope to learn more about what happens to the brains of older adults when successfully treated for insomnia. The therapies used are behavioral and teach these older adults the principles of the sleep-wake cycle. So far, such behavior modifications have worked well.

“Despite having chronic insomnia, often lasting for many years, more than two-thirds of AgeWise participants no longer have insomnia by the end of the treatment. Our hope is that our findings will eventually lead to even better therapies for patients,” Dr. Monk said.

The AgeWise program is currently seeking older adults who do not have sleep apnea, but do have difficulty initiating or maintaining sleep. Laboratory studies are done before and after treatment, with each participant doing one of three different studies: biological clock, stress reactivity or brain imaging.  Between the studies, the participant is given eight weekly individual treatment sessions by a trained therapist.  There is no cost for the therapy, and the participant is reimbursed for each of the laboratory studies and other research procedures.

Anyone interested in participating in the study should call 1-866-647-8283 or email AgeWise@upmc.eduto see if they are eligible for the program.