Effects of LENS neurofeedback on stress, anxiety and cognitive function in medical students: a randomized, controlled pilot study

Stress related illnesses have become such a major health concern in modern society that the United Nations has focused special attention on addressing the impact of stress throughout the world. According to the World Health Organization “stressful circumstances… are damaging to health and may lead to premature death.” Individuals experiencing elevated stress levels are reported to smoke more, exercise less, have worse sleep and poorer eating habits.

Medical students are an example of a high-functioning population that is often subject to high levels of stress. This study is being conducted to see whether a type of treatment called LENS neurofeedback (a type of biofeedback) can decrease stress and anxiety, and improve cognitive function in already high-functioning individuals.

Participants in the study will be 30 volunteer naturopathic medical students who are enrolled full-time at the National University of Natural Medicine (NUNM), aged 18-65 years. This study will take place at NUNM, and will consist of 8 visits throughout the fall quarter of 2010. All participants will be asked to come in for an initial visit where they will receive information about the study and fill out 2 questionnaires and complete 3 cognitive function tests. Participants will be randomly assigned to a treatment group or a placebo group. Individuals in the treatment group will receive 6 weekly neurofeedback (biofeedback) sessions, and members in the placebo group will receive 6 weekly sham-neurofeedback sessions, and both groups will complete 2 questionnaires at these visits. After the 6 treatment sessions are completed participants will come in for a final visit where they will complete the same questionnaires and assessments as at the initial visit.

The primary outcome we will be measuring is change in perceived stress, but we will also be evaluating anxiety levels and cognitive performance.

It is important that we conduct this pilot study to evaluate whether LENS neurofeedback is useful for addressing stress and anxiety, and improving cognitive function. If we find an indication of possible benefit we will apply for funding to study LENS neurofeedback in a larger clinical trial.