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Learn To Fall Asleep — In Class Or At Your Computer

Rural Manitobans who suffer from insomnia, yet live too far from anywhere to get help can now sign up for treatment for the condition.

The department of clinical health psychology at the Health Sciences Centre in Winnipeg is looking for rural Manitobans to sign up for an insomnia treatment program now offered online and via Manitoba Telehealth.

The aim is to make this program, known for its success rate in treating Winnipeggers with insomnia more accessible to rural Manitobans, says Dr. Maxine Holmquist, a psychologist with the department at HSC.

At the same time, these new forms of treatment delivery will be evaluated to see which is most effective, she said.

“We’ve seen anywhere from a 70 to 90 per cent improvement (in persons treated) and we see a lot of people come off their sleep medications. It’s a really good service. The problem is that it just hasn’t been something that we’ve been able to offer rural folks because they can’t do the commute,” said Holmquist.

Need for treatment is high among rural residents. This was prompted by the fact as many as 30 to 40 per cent of referrals to their six-week program at the HSC were coming from outside Winnipeg, yet people couldn’t participate because the drive was prohibitive.

Now, thanks to support through Telehealth and an online resource developed at the HSC that makes the exact same six-week program available via Internet, the treatment will be available to any rural Manitoban who wants to sign up for it.

The online version was created three years ago by Holmquist’s colleague Dr. Nora Vincent and its use among Winnipeggers has shown it is highly effective for treating Winnipeggers with insomnia.

“It’s all the exact same information that we cover in class, covered in six weekly modules,” she explains.

Rural Manitobans who ask to take part will be randomly assigned either to the online version or a Telehealth option. If you’re assigned to the Telehealth delivery, you’ll only have to visit your nearest health centre and then take part in the program in real-time.

Anywhere from 10 to 19 per cent of Canadians are believed to experience chronic insomnia. The symptoms include taking longer than a half-hour to fall asleep and waking up at night and being unable to return to sleep for longer than 30 minutes, the psychologist said.

The main difference between insomnia and just having a bad night is the duration of your sleep disturbance, said Holmquist.

“The duration is longer than six months and it’s almost every night.”

Chronic insomnia takes a huge toll on people’s health, putting them at high risk for a stroke or developing diabetes, depression and anxiety. Plus, there can be huge drops in people’s job productivity, she added. They see folk who’ve suffered from it for years. “It’s hugely debilitating.”

Holmquist said they suspect there are many more rural Manitobans who suffer insomnia but never get referred to their program because their doctors aren’t aware of the HSC’s treatment. What may be happening is that people are simply prescribed medication for their sleep disturbances more often, Holmquist said. The concern with that is that people grow dependent on these meds, which never get at the root of the problem.

Psychological treatment is much more effective because the insomnia people suffer is the result of the body having learned to sleep in a dysfunctional way.

“It’s a case of conditioning and until you address that the pattern will continue,” she said. “It takes some work to get back to a more natural sleep pattern.”

Those wanting more information about the program can call the HSC at (204) 787-5098. They will have sessions beginning in April. “Now is a great time to call,” said Holmquist.

The service is being offered through a partnership with Manitoba Telehealth and a grant from the Health Sciences Foundation.

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About the author

Reporter

Lorraine Stevenson

Lorraine Stevenson is a reporter and photographer for the Manitoba Co-operator with 25 years experience writing news and features. She was previously a reporter with the Farmers Independent Weekly and has also written for community newspapers in Winnipeg and Manitoba's Interlake.

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