Overcome Your Insomnia with Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

· January 22, 2019
Overcoming insomnia can be a difficult task. In this article, we explain how cognitive behavioral therapy can help.

Maybe you feel like you’ve tried everything to overcome your insomnia, but nothing works. Mild insomnia can be frustrating and more serious cases can be debilitating. If you’re looking for solutions, psychological treatment can be far more effective than popular insomnia medications. Read on to learn more about how cognitive behavioral therapy can help with your insomnia.

Insomnia is a common problem that is often incorrectly treated. Statistically, about 6% of the adult population suffers from insomnia as defined by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5). What’s more, 12% of people with insomnia say that it interferes with their daytime activities.

What is the definition of insomnia?

Insomnia is a sleep disorder. An individual with insomnia has a hard time falling and staying asleep or they wake up very early in the morning. This disorder can make it hard to function normally and has significant negative health effects.

What’s more, insomnia tends to predict the development of numerous psychological and medical conditions. That’s why it’s so important to get proper treatment if you have insomnia. The DSM-5 states that mental health care professionals should diagnose insomnia in cases where an individual has trouble falling asleep or staying asleep.

To be diagnosed with insomnia, your issues must be interfering with your daytime activities. What’s more, there shouldn’t be another medical or psychiatric condition that can better explain the problem. Thus, to diagnose insomnia, it must take a patient more than 30 minutes to fall asleep or they wake up after initially falling asleep. If that happens at least three nights a week for at least six months, the individual has insomnia.

Overcome your insomnia with cognitive behavioral therapy.

Overcome your insomnia with cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)

Multiple studies identify cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) as an effective treatment for insomnia. The results of this therapy can be long-lasting if there’s a proper follow-up.

Doctors prescribe different kinds of prescription and over-the-counter drugs for insomnia. These include benzodiazepines, non-benzodiazepine hypnotics, antidepressants, and over-the-counter antihistamines like diphenhydramine and doxylamine.

Nevertheless, there’s evidence that patients better respond to non-pharmacological treatments for insomnia. These treatments also have more long-lasting effects. Cognitive behavioral therapy has proven to be an effective and promising treatment.

Cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia is a psychological intervention designed to help patients change some behaviors, thoughts, and beliefs. These thoughts and beliefs help perpetuate chronic sleep problems.

This therapy is unique because it focuses on sleep. It’s relatively brief compared to other types of psychotherapy and the patient plays a very active role in their treatment. The fundamental goal of cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia is to help the patient sleep and function better during the day.

To achieve these goals, the therapist provides the patient with direct guidance. Nevertheless, the patient is responsible for following the therapists’ recommendations at home. 

How do psychologists treat insomnia with cognitive behavior therapy?

Cognitive behavioral therapy focuses on the behavioral and cognitive processes that cause insomnia. The goal is to revert these processes. The treatment also has a time limit. Usually, an insomnia patient will meet with their psychologist for six to eight 50-minute sessions.

During the first session, the therapist explains the treatment to the patient and also talks about the science of sleep and circadian rhythms. The patient also communicates their goals to the therapist. The next three sessions are dedicated to treating the patient’s sleep concerns, the attention they pay to their symptoms, safety behaviors, and daytime energy.

A man with his psychologist.

The fifth, sixth, and seventh sessions address things like relaxation, sleep hygiene, day and nighttime routines, etc. Lastly, the eighth session focuses on preventing relapses.

When you start cognitive behavioral therapy for your insomnia with a new therapist, they’ll evaluate you first. They’ll look at your medical history, as well as the history of your insomnia and its severity. This first session includes several components that are critical for your treatment. Then, the psychologist will give you a summary and layout of the treatment. They’ll also talk about your particular case and explain the basic sleep patterns and processes.

The last thing you’ll do with your therapist in your first session is to identify the behavioral and cognitive processes that you have to treat to overcome your insomnia. When you finish your treatment, you’ll go over all the techniques and tools you have learned to overcome your insomnia and prevent relapses.

Hood, H. K., Rogojanski, J., & Moss, T. G. (2014). Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy for Chronic Insomnia. Current Treatment Options in Neurology. http://doi.org/10.1007/s11940-014-0321-6

Leggett, M. K. (2014). Cognitive-behavioral therapy for insomnia. In Advances in the Management of Primary and Secondary Insomnia. http://doi.org/10.2217/9781780844800.FMEB2013.13.162