Cognitive Behavior Therapy for Insomnia – How it works
It’s another sleepless night. You toss and turn in bed, willing your brain to just shut off and let you get some rest. You’ve probably tried many things without lasting effect. Cognitive Behavior Therapy for Insomnia (CBT-I) can be very effective as it teaches you how to break the cycle of insomnia and help reduce sleep related anxiety too.
But let me be clear, before we go any further, I get it. Insomnia can be extremely difficult to deal with. When our bodies and minds don’t get the rest they need, it can worsen the symptoms of anxiety, depression, and other mental health disorders. Which, in turn, makes us feel even more restless and on edge. And makes it harder to sleep. What a pain!
For many who suffer from insomnia and sleep anxiety, it is a challenge to know how to make it better. The first line of thinking used to be (and sometimes, unfortunately, continues to be) to take melatonin or maybe even sleeping pills. However, while these are temporary solutions that may work in the short term, they don’t treat the underlying issues in the long term. A great, effective long-term solution to treating insomnia and other sleep difficulties is through Cognitive Behavior Therapy for Insomnia (CBT-I) and evidence shows it is as effective as medication without any side effects! Learn more here.
What Is Cognitive Behavior Therapy For Insomnia?
Cognitive Behavior Therapy for Insomnia (CBT-I) is an evidence-based approach to treating the symptoms of insomnia. It is an off-shoot of regular cognitive behavior therapy, which looks at the connection between our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. CBT-I looks at how we think, what we do, how we feel, and how all of this effects how we sleep.
How Does Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT-I) Work?
Cognitive Behavior Therapy for Insomnia (CBT-I) uses multiple components to help treat insomnia. A CBT therapist will use several different tools, including cognitive, behavioral, and educational interventions when working to combat insomnia.
This is the approach where a therapist works with you to challenge the unhelpful thoughts that you have regarding sleep. You will begin by keeping a log of unhelpful thoughts that together with your therapist, will be challenged and updated.
Then the next time you are in bed and unable to sleep, if an unhelpful thought pops up, you will be able to talk back to that thought and find some peace and self-support.
Cognitive Behavior Therapy for Insomnia (CBT-I) will teach you coping strategies including relaxation techniques. Working with a therapist, you can also learn stimulation control. Both of these help to promote healthier sleeping habits. These aren’t taught so that you sleep per se, but rather so that you can reduce the frustration and anxiety related with not sleeping.
You can think of it as being the next best thing to sleep, getting to relax while awake. Paradoxically when you focus on feeling more relaxed, the body and mind will often then drift off to sleep without any further effort on your part.
This is when the therapist will provide information on how thoughts, feelings, and behavior are all connected to sleeping patterns. The CBT Therapist will also help you understand what specific tools you can begin to use to lower your anxiety and frustration, while increase feelings of self support and soothing.
The Cognitive Behavior Therapy for Insomnia (CBT-I) Therapist will also help you understand what gets in the way of developing good sleep habits and what tools you might find helpful to reduce your baseline anxiety so that your body can then do what it was born to do – rest and sleep without effort!
Techniques For Cognitive Behavior Therapy for Insomnia ( CBT-I)
There are many techniques that a therapist will use in Cognitive Behavior Therapy for Insomnia (CBT-I) with someone who is suffering from insomnia and sleep related anxiety. Depending on the person, the order and flow of the interventions and techniques may vary. Because each person has unique issues they are facing, this allows for a highly individualized treatment plan.
If a person has prior experiences with insomnia, they may worry about falling asleep. When they go to bed, this can actually keep them awake longer because of these worries. When this happens, it is common for someone to try and force sleep, rather than letting it come naturally. In addition, anxiety symptoms or an unrealistic expectation about the quality of sleep can worsen insomnia.
Part of the restructuring process works to challenge the negative and unhelpful thought patterns that have formed in a person’s mind. By challenging these patterns, it can help break the cycle of insomnia and improve sleeping habits.
Let’s face it, we’re on our phones too much. If we aren’t on them, we are on the laptop. Or watching tv. Or playing video games. “Ok…what’s the point?,” you might be thinking.
Our unwinding time before bed often involves one or more of those things. Between the blue light, the mental stimulation, and distress that can come from any of these…no wonder why it interferes with sleep! Over time, our brains will begin to associate our bedroom with additional time to use electronics and specifically with being actively awake.
Stimulus control helps to counteract these things by re-forming healthier sleep habits, like no tv in bed, no scrolling through TikTok videos, etc.
“Wait, what? That’s my problem to begin with!” I know, hear me out.
One of the key techniques in Cognitive Behavior Therapy for Insomnia (CBT-I) is what is called sleep restriction. Say you want to sleep for 8 hours a night, but in reality, you are sleeping for only 5. Sleep restriction limits the amount of time you spend in bed. So instead of essentially wasting 3 hours in bed trying to sleep, but not sleeping, you go to bed 5 hours before you have to wake up. Using this method, you can slowly increase the amount of time you spend in bed. It retrains your brain to associate the bed with sleeping!
Insomnia is a challenge that many people face, yet few know how to win the battle over. Working with a trained Cognitive Behavior Therapy for Insomnia (CBT-I) therapist can help you win the war against insomnia and get some zzz’s. Click to learn more about Cognitive Behavior Therapy.
I am a Licensed Mental Health Counselor in Hawaii and an Accredited CBT Therapist in the UK with over 15 years of experience. I specialize in Cognitive Behavior Therapy, Anxiety Treatment using CBT, online therapy incorporating exercise and physical movement. I have received advanced specialist training in Cognitive Behavior Therapy and Compassion Focused Therapy. Over the years I have helped many people suffering with Insomnia learn how to manage their thoughts, emotions and behaviors and ultimately sleep better using Cognitive Behavior Therapy for Insomnia (CBT-I) Please reach out to my Honolulu or London clinic to set up an Insomnia Treatment Test Drive.