Could CBT Solve Your Sleep Problems?By Diana Kelly Levey
When you experience those nights of tossing and turning, hoping your brain will “turn off” for good, you probably wish you had a magic wand that could help you fall asleep faster, right?
It might take longer than saying “abracadabra,” but learning cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) skills—even for as little as an hour—could set you up for better sleep. The latest findings on the impact of CBT on sleep come from a small study on male inmates published in the journal Behavioral Sleep Medicine. The researchers wanted to test how a one-shot session of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT-I) could help with mood and insomnia symptoms amongst prisoners with acute insomnia. In an incarceration setting, insomnia has been associated with aggression, anger, impulsivity, suicidality, and increased prison health care use. Receiving just one hour of a CBT-I session and a self-management pamphlet was effective in preventing the development of chronic insomnia in 73 percent of prisoners. After one month of the treatment, the prisoners also reported a reduction in anxiety and depressive symptoms, as well as in their insomnia severity.
Granted, you probably don’t have the same sleep stressors and daily concerns that interfere with a prisoner’s sleep, but that doesn’t mean the average adult couldn’t benefit. CBT is a form of psychological treatment that has been demonstrated to be effective for a range of issues. It’s based on the principle that many psychological problems are partly based on faulty or unhelpful ways of thinking, learned patterns, and/or unhelpful behavior, according to the American Psychological Association. This treatment targets perceptions and behaviors that cause and maintain a problem, and has been adapted to address many psychiatric disorders, including insomnia.
CBT-I is an effective treatment for insomnia that doesn’t involve pharmaceuticals. It’s a structured, short-term, skill-focused therapy that’s aimed at changing one’s thoughts, beliefs, and behaviors that contribute to insomnia over the course of a few weeks. Often this is done with the help of a therapist or a digital program with goal-oriented sessions. A 2015 meta-analysis of 37 studies found that 36 percent of patients who received CBT-I were in remission from insomnia, compared with about 17 percent of those in control or comparison conditions.
If your sleep problems stem from