Neurofeedback and Sleep

According to the Institute of Medicine, an estimated 50 to 70 million Americans have a chronic sleep disorder.


Sleep disorders could be, but are not limited to; narcolepsy, hypersomnia, periodic limb movement disorder, insomnia, and sleep paralysis. Although neurofeedback training may be effective with the aforementioned sleep disorders, the most research had been conducted on insomnia as it is the most common sleep disorder affecting 30 million Americans. The DSM-5 defines insomnia as a lack of sleep stemming from insufficient sleep quality or quantity despite adequate opportunity for sleep. Insomnia can be triggered by illness, mental disorders, and events that cause physical/physiological stress.

Symptoms of insomnia can include

  • Difficulty initiating sleep, maintaining sleep, and early morning awakening
  • Impairment in social, occupational, educational and other areas of functioning due to sleep
  • Difficulty sleeping at least 3 nights per week persisting for 3 months that cannot be explained by medical conditions and coexisting mental disorders (primary insomnia)

Research on Neurofeedback and Sleep

Neurofeedback aimed at enhancing the amplitude of sensorimotor rhythm (SMR) is shown to shorten the time it takes to fall asleep, as well as reducing movement during sleep, which reinforces restorative and learning benefits that accompany good sleep (Hoedlmoser et al., 2008). Sensorimotor rhythm (SMR) is an electrical impulse arising from the cortex of the brain. The waves associated with SMR are between 12-14 Hz. In the aforementioned study participants were split into 2 groups, one focused on enhancing SMR training (experimental group) and the other focused on enhancing random frequencies (control group). Participants underwent one hour of neurofeedback training sessions for 10 sessions; completed in 10 consecutive days. It was found that the experimental group performed better on a declarative memory test, as well as being able to fall asleep faster.

In a similar study, it was found that enhancing SMR, or EEG amplitude within 12-15 Hz, results in fewer awakenings during sleep as well as an increase in sleep quality (Schabus et al., 2014). In the aforementioned study, participants presenting with symptoms of primary insomnia (insomnia not attributed to psychiatric, medical, or environmental causes) underwent either PFT (pseudo feedback/fake neurofeedback) or ISC (instrumental SMR conditioning). It was found that after only 10 sessions the ISC group rated their sleep at a higher quality and experienced fewer night awakenings. It was also found that the ISC group had increased overnight memory consolidation for those in the study considered SMR “responders”.

Another study, utilizing a slighting different treatment protocol also found that neurofeedback relieved symptoms of insomnia. Hammer et al., 2011 found that using Z-score SMR neurofeedback was effective as individualized QEEG guided SMR neurofeedback. Their participants found normalization in their QEEG maps, as well as being rated as “normal sleepers” after only 15 sessions.
Neurofeedback may be able to help lessen symptoms, and help you to better manage your insomnia.
Please contact the Brain Enrichment Center at 440-232-9100 to schedule an individual consultation to see if neurofeedback may be a good choice for your specific situation. Or email us at

Click for References

Hammer, B. U., Colbert, A. P., Brown, K. A., & Ilioi, E. C. (2011). Neurofeedback for insomnia: A pilot study of Z-score SMR and individualized protocols. Applied psychophysiology and biofeedback, 36(4), 251-264.
Hoedlmoser, K., Pecherstorfer, T., Gruber, G., Anderer, P., Doppelmayr, M., Klimesch, W., & Schabus, M. (2008). Instrumental conditioning of human sensorimotor rhythm (12–15 Hz) and its impact on sleep as well as declarative learning. Sleep, 31(10), 1401.
Institute of Medicine. (n.d.). Retrieved January 21, 2016, from
Schabus, M., Heib, D. P., Lechinger, J., Griessenberger, H., Klimesch, W., Pawlizki, A., ... & Hoedlmoser,K. (2014). Enhancing sleep quality and memory in insomnia using instrumental sensorimotor rhythm conditioning. Biological psychology, 95, 126-134.