Using Relaxation Techniques to Help Treat Chronic Insomnia

Those with chronic insomnia may want to add a new strategy to help supplement their existing treatment. Evidence shows that relaxation techniques can be used to effectively treat chronic insomnia.

For many people, sleep disorders are related to stress. Relaxation techniques can cause a deep psychological shift to counteract the stress response that is often responsible for sleepless nights.

Mindfulness Meditation

Mindfulness meditation is a relaxation technique that focuses on breathing, calming the mind and being present in the moment. During mindfulness meditation, you don’t concern yourself with thoughts of the past or future. This helps break the typical thought pattern that involves regret and worry. Instead, you’re only focused on the breaths you’re taking in that moment.

It’s recommended to practice mindfulness for 20 minutes each day, according to a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association. Sleep disturbances are more common in older adults, so the trial was conducted with two groups of middle-aged and older adults with documented sleep troubles. For six weeks, the individual groups met once a week for two hours. One group completed a mindfulness awareness program that taught meditation and other relaxation techniques. The other group completed a class that focused on sleep education. Participants from the mindfulness awareness group had less insomnia, fatigue and depression at the end of the study.

Finding What Works for You

Some people prefer to meditate while seated or lying down, but others practice mindfulness while doing another activity, such as tai chi or yoga. Another strategy is to use music-assisted relaxation or progressive relaxation to help ease nighttime anxiety. Relaxation techniques are sometimes combined with cognitive-behavioral therapy. There isn’t a one-size-fits-all strategy for treating insomnia, so work with your doctor to find the solution that works best for you.

Relaxation techniques are generally safe and side effects are rarely reported. If you have a serious underlying health problem, consult with a medical professional before using relaxation techniques as a treatment for insomnia. Also, remember that you shouldn’t discontinue any doctor-recommended treatment without first consulting your health care team.

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Light Pollution Could Cause Insomnia in Older Adults

Outdoor artificial lights are used to enhance vision for drivers and pedestrians at night and to make communities safer. For older adults who live in areas with higher levels of this outdoor light pollution, it may be harder to fall asleep and stay asleep.

A study published in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine studied the correlation between exposure to bright, artificial outdoor lights at night and the use of drugs that battle sleeplessness.

About the Study

Researchers found evidence that light pollution is linked to insomnia during their study of more than 50,000 adults over the age of 60. Of the study participants, approximately 22 percent took hypnotic drugs to manage insomnia, and about 60 percent were women. People with a diagnosed sleep disorder were excluded from the study.

The participants were categorized based on the amount of light pollution they were typically exposed to during the night. This data was not self-reported. Instead, researchers utilized satellite data from the National Centers for Environmental Information to estimate the level of light pollution each participant would be exposed to regularly.

Findings indicated that the people who were exposed to greater levels of artificial outdoor lights were more likely to take the sleeping pills more often and at a higher dose. This indicates that being exposed to bright outdoor lighting at night could be a risk factor for insomnia.

How to Combat Light Pollution

In terms of environmental pollutants, light pollution has historically not been a major concern for public health officials. However, this recent scientific evidence indicates a potential connection between light pollution and a serious health condition. More studies are needed to define the prevalence of light pollution adversely affecting human health. If the prevalence is significant, changes to public policy may be initiated.

On an individual level, those with insomnia may find it helpful to limit their exposure to outdoor artificial light at night. If you need help managing your insomnia, make an appointment with your doctor.

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Can Caffeine Affect Your Circadian Rhythm?

Can Caffeine Affect Your Circadian Rhythm?Your circadian rhythm regulates your sleep cycle by telling your body when it’s time to sleep and when it’s time to be awake. This system can be disrupted by many external factors, including light exposure, food consumption, physical activity and certain medications. It’s well-known that caffeine can provide an energy boost, but is caffeine consumption another environmental factor that could affect your internal clock?

The Importance of a Regular Sleep-Wake Cycle

An irregular circadian rhythm can significantly effect your health and quality of life. Circadian rhythm disturbance can lead to an increased incidence of medical problems, such as:

  • Depression
  • Cancer
  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Diabetes

Caffeine’s Effect on Cellular Timekeeping

In past years, scientists have studied bread mold, green algae and fruit flies to discover that caffeine can alter the way certain cells keep time. This led one group of researchers to question whether caffeine has the same effect on human cells.

The study was conducted by a research team at the University of Colorado, Boulder. They conducted a 49-day double-blind, placebo-controlled sleep study. Participants were either exposed to caffeine, bright light or both 3 hours before bedtime. The caffeine dosage was equivalent to the amount in a double espresso.

Results of the study indicated that the caffeine dosage taken 3 hours before bedtime delayed circadian rhythm in the patients by approximately 40 minutes. Researchers also found that exposure to bright light before bedtime had a double effect of caffeine on participants.

There’s no denying that both caffeine and bright light have a significant impact on humans’ circadian rhythm.

Maintaining a Regular Circadian Rhythm

As this study suggests, it’s best to avoid caffeine at least 3 hours prior to regular bedtime. In addition to coffee, caffeine is also found in some teas, soda and chocolate.

When your internal clock is continually misaligned with your normal sleep schedule, it can put unnecessary stress on your body.

The effect of caffeine can vary from person to person based on a variety of factors, including genetics. Anyone who is sensitive to caffeine should be especially vigilant about the foods and beverages they consume later in the day.

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How to Clean your CPAP Machine

Continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) is a standard treatment for patients with obstructive sleep apnea and other sleep-related breathing disorders. Because patients use the machines every night, they need to be regularly cleaned and cared for.

Neglecting to clean a CPAP machine can lead to bacterial growth that causes odor. In some cases, the bacteria may cause the equipment to breakdown prematurely. Luckily, the cleaning process is fairly simple for each component of the machines.

The CPAP Mask

Most CPAP masks are made of silicone. The masks should be cleaned daily with warm water and non-fragrant soap. You can also opt to purchase wipes or detergents made specifically to clean CPAP masks. Once a week, it’s recommended to soak the mask in a solution of one parts vinegar to three parts water, then rinse it with distilled water. The headgear and tubing of the mask should be cleaned weekly with warm soapy water.

To extend the life of a mask, wash your face thoroughly before bed and avoid using facial moisturizers.

The CPAP Humidifier

Most CPAP machines are equipped with a humidifier that helps reduce dry mouth. Daily cleaning is needed to prevent calcification and bacteria build-up.

To clean, the humidification chamber should be removed carefully so no water spills on the machine. You can then wash it with soapy water and leave it to dry on a clean surface. It should also be soaked in a water and vinegar solution weekly for 15-20 minutes, then rinsed with distilled water.

The CPAP Filters

Near the back of the machine, you’ll find the CPAP filter. This is the component that draws air from the room.

The gray non-disposable filters should be cleaned on a weekly basis. If you have pets or excessive dust inside your home, you may need to clean it more often. The non-disposable filters may need to be replaced every six months. The white disposable filters should be replaced monthly, or as needed.

To ensure that the equipment has time to dry during the day, try making CPAP maintenance a part of your morning routine. Another option is to use a cleaner and sanitizer machine that automatically cleans and dries your machine for you.

Consult your doctor or the product manufacturer if you have questions about maintenance for your specific machine.


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Tips for Recovering from Jet Lag

Tips for Recovering from Jet LagTraveling for your dream vacation or an important business trip often requires flying to different time zones. Our bodies can have trouble adjusting, especially when we cross three or more time zones in one day. This results in circadian desynchrony, a phenomenon more commonly known as jet lag.

In the past, jet lag was merely considered a state of mind. Today, it is classified as one of the most common sleep disorders. Our circadian rhythm can be measured by certain biological conditions, including a distinct change in body temperature and plasma levels of hormones. Those conditions help our body determine when to sleep and when we should be awake.

The symptoms of jet lag vary by individual, but the most common include:

  • Exhaustion during the day
  • Headaches
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Trouble falling asleep or staying asleep
  • Changes in appetite
  • Irritability
  • Gastrointestinal discomfort

As you can imagine, these symptoms will put a damper on any trip. Jet lag is also known to affect people after they return home from their travels.

No treatment can instantly shift a person’s circadian rhythm to align with a new time zone. However, taking certain steps before, during and after a trip can minimize the effect of jet lag.

Exposure to Sunlight

Circadian rhythms are influenced by sunlight. When traveling east, your biological clock falls behind. Exposing yourself to sunlight in the morning and avoiding bright light in the evening can aid in resetting your biological clock to your current environment. When traveling west, the opposite may be helpful because your biological clock will be ahead. Bright light and exercise in the evening can help you stay awake later and sleep longer.

Avoid Stimulants

Substances like alcohol and caffeine are stimulants that prevent sleep. Having a glass of wine with dinner may be tempting, but it can affect rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. This can hinder mental recovery from jet lag. Instead, drink plenty of water and stay hydrated.


Melatonin is a hormone that your body produces naturally. It is also available as an over-the-counter option. It will not help the biological imbalance caused by jet lag, but it may help manage short-term insomnia when taken before bedtime.

Consult a Medical Professional

Seeking advice from a doctor before or after a trip is the best way to customize your recovery plan. They can recommend best practices, determine treatment options, and possibly prescribe medications to help with your transition.

At PCCMA, we specialize in treating circadian rhythm disorders like jet lag. To schedule an appointment, call us today at (717) 234-2561.


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5 Things to Know Before Your Sleep Study

The average adult requires between seven and nine hours of sleep each night for their body to function optimally throughout the day. Unfortunately, up to 70 million adults in the U.S. have a sleep disorder that prevents them from getting consistently restful sleep.

To diagnose and treat sleep disorders, medical professionals often recommend that patients undergo a sleep study.

About Sleep Studies

A sleep study, also known as a polysomnography, is an overnight exam that provides insights into your brain and bodily functions while you sleep.

The test is used to diagnose sleep apnea, narcolepsy, restless leg syndrome, circadian rhythm disorders and other sleep-related problems.

What to Know Before the Sleep Study

  1. Your comfort is a priorityOur sleep studies take place at a medical facility, but the room has the look and comfort of a hotel room. You’re encouraged to bring personal items, such as pajamas and a toothbrush.

    The sleep study itself is painless and noninvasive. Tiny sensors will be placed on your head and body to monitor various bodily and brain activity, but the sensors will not restrict your movement during sleep. The sensors may feel awkward at first, but we do our best to make you as comfortable as possible.

  2. Come preparedA sleep study won’t drastically change your daily routine, but there are a few steps to take before arriving for the study.

    You should wash and dry your hair prior to the study, but avoid putting any product in your hair. Any oils or sprays can make it difficult for the sensors to adhere to your scalp. You should also try to avoid naps the day of the study and stay away from caffeinated beverages later in the day.

  3. Communication is keyYou should enter your sleep study with a basic understanding of the process, so don’t be afraid to ask questions before and during the study.

    You should also be fully honest with staff about any prescription and recreational drugs you take, as well as any special needs you have (i.e. physical limitations, trouble getting out of bed, nocturnal enuresis, etc.).

  4. Help is always closeAlthough you’ll have privacy during the sleep study, staff is always nearby in case of emergency.
  5. Results are not instantaneousIt can take up to two weeks for sleep study results to be processed. Once your doctor evaluates all the data from the study, they will schedule a follow-up visit to discuss your results and formulate a treatment plan, if necessary.

If you have specific questions about sleep studies, call our office at (717) 234-2561. To learn more about sleep apnea, join us at our upcoming community discussion April 27!

Sleep Disorders May Affect Women Sooner than Men

Sleep Disorders May Affect Women Sooner than Men

It’s a misconception that snoring is a common problem that doesn’t require medical attention. Research shows that anyone who snores should see a doctor to rule out a sleep disorder, such as sleep apnea (which studies now show may increase to cognitive decline). However, snoring may not be the only warning sign a person should look out for.

Sleep disorders are diagnosed more frequently in men than women. They are specifically diagnosed most often in men over the age of 40. Although symptoms present themselves at a similar age among both genders, the disorder takes longer to diagnose in women. This is because women present different symptoms.

According to research from the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, male snoring is more likely than female snoring to be the cause of couples sleeping in different rooms. A disruption like this is often the driving force behind a doctor’s appointment.

While women may snore, sleep apnea tends to present itself in other ways. Women are more likely to have symptoms of depression, daytime sleepiness, insomnia, difficulty concentrating and memory problems. While disruptive to daily life, these symptoms are easily attributed to other underlying causes, leading to delayed diagnosis.

Case Study

In one study, researchers analyzed data from 4,800 participants. One group consisted of people diagnosed with obstructive sleep apnea, the second group self-reported snoring, and the third was a control group with no sleep-related disorders or symptoms.

The study showed that the hearts of people with sleep apnea and snoring had enlarged walls in the left ventricle, which causes the heart to work harder.

Looking at the group of self-reported snorers, women had a more significant enlargement than men when compared to their counterparts in the control group.

The Importance of Early Diagnosis

When left untreated, obstructive sleep apnea can lead to high blood pressure, cardiovascular problems and stroke. Sleep apnea is also associated with type II diabetes and depression.

If sleep apnea and other disorders are diagnosed early, the resulting treatments (often a CPAP machine or nighttime dental device) can improve nighttime sleep and breathing. This leads to a decrease in severe side effects, such as heart problems.

It is especially important for women to recognize and acknowledge symptoms that could be caused by sleep disorders.

Why Sleep Apnea Might Increase Cognitive Decline

Why Sleep Apnea Might Increase Cognitive Decline

Numerous studies conducted over the past decade suggest that obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) can have negative effects on the brain’s structure and function.

Restorative sleep is necessary for brain health. Sleep apnea deprives the brain of a full, healthy sleep cycle leading to symptoms like shortened attention span, irritability, fatigue and trouble with short-term memory. People suffering from sleep apnea also have trouble converting short-term memories into long-term memories.

Sleep apnea can affect the brain in more serious ways than just temporary symptoms. It can change the shape of the brain by significantly reducing both gray matter and white matter concentration in certain areas of the brain.

Researchers from New York University conducted a study of 2,500 people with Alzheimer’s disease. On average, they found that patients with breathing disorders were diagnosed with mild cognitive impairment 10 years earlier than those without.

Symptoms of cognitive impairment are much more prominent in older adults, but sleep apnea also affects children’s developing brains.

Restoring the Damage

There is hope for patients living with sleep apnea. Continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) therapy has been shown to reverse the damage caused by severe OSA. Improvements in the brain’s gray matter were seen after three months of therapy, but reversal of damage to white matter was only seen after 12 months of treatment.

Effective treatment can improve cognition, alertness, mood and overall quality of life. Therefore, the “Stop the Snore” campaign was developed through a collaboration of organizations like the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, Sleep Research Society and CDC.

The campaign encourages people to consult a doctor if they are experiencing warning signs for sleep apnea. This includes snoring, gasping and irregular breathing while asleep.

Obstructive sleep apnea is a common condition that affects over 18 million Americans, but many who suffer from the disease don’t know the far-reaching health implications that can result. If you or a loved one are experiencing symptoms of sleep apnea, it’s recommended that you consult a medical professional.

Sleep Apnea Symptoms and Treatment

Sleep Apnea Symptoms and Treatment

Sleep apnea is a common sleep disorder, causing those affected to periodically stop breathing while asleep. Only 20% of the 18 million Americans with sleep apnea have been diagnosed and treated for the disease.

Common Symptoms

Adults with sleep apnea are likely to experience the following symptoms:

  • Dry mouth or headaches in the morning
  • Problems concentrating during the day
  • Excessive fatigue
  • Heartburn
  • Irritability
  • Decreased libido

Symptoms of sleep apnea vary in men, women and children. Women are more likely to report depression, headache, fatigue, anxiety and insomnia. In children, symptoms may include bedwetting, problems with academic performance, hyperactivity or an increase in asthma symptoms.

Some common signs of sleep apnea are loud snoring and visible changes in breathing pattern. These signs are typically observed during a sleep study that leads to diagnosis.


Once sleep apnea is diagnosed, the patient will work with their doctor to develop a treatment plan based on specifics of the diagnosis.

A breathing device, such as a CPAP (Continuous Positive Airway Pressure) machine, is a commonly recommended treatment option.

Those with mild sleep apnea may be prescribed a mouthpiece to wear while sleeping. The mouthpiece helps hold a patient’s jaw and/or tongue in place to prevent obstruction of the airway. Orofacial therapy also could help improve the tongue’s positioning and strengthen facial muscles.

If a patient’s sleep apnea is severe and doesn’t respond to other treatment, surgery may be required. Possible surgical procedures may be performed on the tonsils, jaw or trachea, depending on the cause of the sleep apnea.

Lifestyle Changes

Along with other treatment options, your doctor may also ask you to adopt healthy lifestyle changes. This includes minimizing the intake of alcohol and cigarettes, making heart-healthy eating choices and exercising regularly.

Untreated sleep apnea can lead to depression and heart disease, so it is important to consult your doctor if you are experiencing symptoms of sleep apnea.

PCCMA performs sleep studies at its in-house sleep lab and sleep labs affiliated with Geisinger Holy Spirit and UPMC Pinnacle. To schedule an appointment, please call us at (717) 234-2561 or complete our online appointment form.

Sleep Study: A Simple Exam Can Lead to a Better Night’s Sleep

Sleep Study: A Simple Exam Can Lead to a Better Night's Sleep
Our sleep labs have the comforts of a hotel room.

If you are having sleep-related problems, your doctor may recommend that you participate in a sleep study.

Diagnosing and treating difficulties with sleep is important because, left untreated, they can lead to other conditions such as high blood pressure, heart disease and depression.

Continue reading “Sleep Study: A Simple Exam Can Lead to a Better Night’s Sleep”

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