Insomnia Research

Reviewed by: HU Medical Review Board | Last reviewed: June 2020

Insomnia may be the most common sleep disorder, but there is still plenty doctors do not understand about the condition. That is where research comes in.

Research into insomnia can help doctors better understand the role sleep plays in other health conditions and substance abuse. It can also help find new treatments or better target treatments for certain age groups.

Why is insomnia research important?

Insomnia is trouble falling asleep, staying asleep, or waking too early. Better understanding could help relieve the large burden insomnia places on society.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that 1 in 3 US adults have sleep problems. And about 1 of 3 adults worldwide have symptoms of insomnia. Insomnia that lasts more than 3 months is called chronic insomnia.1,2

People with insomnia are more likely to have depression, anxiety, heart failure, and diabetes. They are also more likely to misuse alcohol or drugs. Ideally, insomnia research should help find more effective treatments that reduce the risk of other illnesses.3

There is an economic burden with insomnia too. Lack of quality sleep leads to poor performance at school and work, more accidents, more missed time at school or work, and higher health care costs. Better understanding of the causes and treatments for insomnia should reduce the costs of poor sleep.4-7

The latest in insomnia research

Here are a few of the latest findings from insomnia research in 2019:8-10

  • A study from Columbia University found that postmenopausal women with a diet high in added sugars were more likely to develop insomnia. Foods high in added sugar include white bread, white rice, and soda. Women who ate more vegetables, fruits, and fiber were less likely to develop insomnia.
  • A study from Michigan State found that early research underestimated the dangers of lack of sleep. This study documented how too little sleep impacts the ability to complete a series of tasks without losing focus. Doctors knew that lack of sleep affected concentration, but not what is called placekeeping. Placekeeping is the ability to follow a series of steps without leaving out or repeating a step. This study found that errors increased by 30 percent the day after a sleepless night.
  • A Netherlands study identified 5 separate types of insomnia in a group of over 4,000 people. Each type comes with certain personality traits and differences in brain structure and function. Each type also responded to drugs and cognitive behavioral therapy differently.

What is a clinical trial?

A clinical trial is a research study that tries to find out whether a new drug, device, surgery, or change in behavior improves a health condition. A clinical trial may be designed to compare:11

  • A new drug to an older one
  • A new drug to a placebo (sugar pill)
  • A new device or surgery to older treatment options
  • Track how well a treatment works over many years

Clinical trials are regulated by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to make sure the studies are safe in humans. Study in humans happens only after many years of study in a lab.

Types of clinical trials for insomnia

Dozens of clinical trials focused on insomnia are looking for volunteers across the country. There were 135 trials focused on insomnia listed on CenterWatch in early 2020. is another website where you can find clinical trials focused on insomnia.12

Sometimes these trials want healthy volunteers of a certain age or gender. Sometimes they seek people with insomnia and another health condition like Alzheimer’s or post-traumatic stress disorder. Just a few of the clinical trials underway in early 2020 include:12

  • Light therapy post brain injury to treat insomnia
  • New drugs for people over age 18, over 50, and over 65
  • Treatment of insomnia in people with multiple sclerosis, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and major depressive disorder
  • Treatment with acupuncture
  • Insomnia in Gulf War veterans or female veterans
  • New drugs to help with insomnia caused by when people stop drinking
  • Role of neighborhood and post-traumatic stress on insomnia
  • Role of exercise in treating insomnia

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