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Studies Show that Drug-Free Treatment for Insomnia is Effective

Studies Show that Drug-Free Treatment for Insomnia is Effective

Everyone knows the frustrating feeling of not being able to sleep at night. But about 10% of Americans struggle with chronic sleep deprivation due to insomnia. Patients diagnosed with insomnia have difficulty falling asleep or going back to sleep at least three nights a week for an extended period of time. Chronic insomnia is unlikely to go away without treatment. Yet the long-term effects of sleep deprivation pose serious health risks.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Insomnia (CBTi) is a multi-component treatment that begins with an analysis of sleeping habits, sleep schedules and issues that the person struggles with at night. It is an approved, drug-free method for treating the sleep disorder. CBTi is a structured approach to helping people understand and change the thoughts and habits that are making it difficult to sleep.

This type of therapy requires regular visits with a qualified clinician. The first step includes analyzing your current routine and behaviors. Then, the clinician will advise the patient on how to improve his/her sleep hygiene. Next, the clinician will guide the person through a series of strategies aimed at resolving the symptoms of insomnia in the short and long term.

Watch this video to learn more about how cognitive behavioral therapy works to effectively treat insomnia.

Sleeping Pills Provide Only Short-Term Relief from Insomnia

Sleeping pills are often the first thing insomniacs try in order to get more rest. Whether prescribed by a physician or taken over the counter, sleeping pills can provide relief from insomnia. But it’s a short-term solution. Sleeping pills are not recommended for long-term use and can have dangerous side-effects, including the risk of addiction. Additionally, insurance companies tend to restrict coverage for long-term use of these prescription medications.

CBTi is a different type of solution. It addresses the underlying causes of the sleep disorder, rather than just treating the symptoms. Unlike sleeping pills, is a personalized program focused on changing the way that person organizes the activities in their day, thinks about sleep, and prepares for bed. The approach is effective, but it requires commitment and effort to make it work.


CBTi Is an Effective Long-Term Solution

Now, experts in the field of healthcare and science are supporting the application of cognitive behavioral therapy to treat insomnia. Clinical reviews have shown that CBTi is a safe and effective way to manage chronic insomnia. In fact, according to the British Journal of General Practice, multi-component CBTi should be the first treatment approach recommended by doctors.

With just 4 – 8 CBTi treatment sessions, participants saw improvement. Studies have shown that, on average, participants fell asleep up to 30 minutes faster and spent 22-36 minutes less lying awake. Though sleeping pills may be used temporarily in combination with therapy, researchers also believe the effects of CBTi are longer lasting.

Why CBTi Works

The reason that cognitive behavioral therapy is a better long-term solution for insomnia lies in the structure of treatment. Effective therapy works in four steps over time:

  1. Identifying the causes for their disrupted sleep.
  2. Modifying thoughts and behaviors related to bedtime.
  3. Maintaining healthy sleep hygiene.
  4. Preventing relapse by reassessing symptoms and reinstating strategies as needed.

CBTi is highly personalized, teaching people to understand their particular challenges and address them even after therapy is completed. Clinicians work to understand each person and make tailored recommendations based on their lifestyle. Patients should be able to recognize their own negative thought patterns and learn how to calm the worries which keep them awake. Plus, they learn healthy ways to promote quality sleep which works for their schedule and needs.

Relapse prevention is also a big component of success with cognitive behavior therapy. Insomnia has many triggers; it is important that people can recognize those vulnerabilities and take action to prevent new onset episodes in the future. For example, strategies may include stimulus control techniques, restarting sleep restriction, and not trying to make up lost sleep.

However, those seeking relief from insomnia, must be ready to put in the effort to make therapy successful. It takes time (usually about six weeks) and can make you more tired before you start to feel better. For example, sleep restriction is one common CBTi strategy that requires first limiting the amount of time you can sleep. Then, as sleep quality improves, you are allowed to sleep for increasingly longer periods until reaching the point where you actually feel rested. For those who are already tired, avoiding naps or staying awake until late at night can be very difficult. Patients often feel drowsier and more fatigued in the early weeks of therapy.

Related article: Insomnia & Sleep Apnea Treatment Is Now Helping People with Telehealth.

Proven CBTi Techniques

There are seven main methods that clinicians may implement as part of the Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for insomnia.

Sleep Hygiene Training

This type of CBTi helps fix behaviors that keep you from getting restful sleep. Sleep hygiene training is highly individualized; the doctor will need to evaluate your daily activities and provide recommendations based on your particular habits.

Common adjustments include increasing daily exercise, decreasing caffeine intake and the amount of time spent watching TV or using mobile devices. It’s important that all the recommendations are followed in order to ensure treatment success and, ultimately, to sleep better.

Stimulus Control

This method is designed to break the negative association that the patient has made with bedtime. Often, people who have been suffering from insomnia for many months or years dread going to bed. By using specialized cognitive and behavior modification techniques, these patients can develop a more positive association. Stimulus control includes:

  • only going to bed when you are tired
  • using the bed exclusively for sleeping
  • getting out of bed if you don’t fall asleep within 20 minutes
  • and doing something relaxing, such as reading or watching TV, before returning to bed

Sleep Restriction

This strategy for resolving insomnia is designed to reset your sleep pattern. It involves initially restricting the amount of time dedicated to sleep. At first, you will feel more tired, which actually helps you to fall asleep quicker and wake up less frequently. As the quality of sleep gets better, the restriction on time spent in bed at night is gradually extended. The ultimate goal is to find the point at which you feel adequately rested. This won’t necessarily be 8 hours, as the ideal amount of sleep isn’t the same for everyone.

Relaxation training

Some people have problems sleeping because stress or anxiety cause what’s known as hyperarousal. Relaxation training is a type of CBTi that addresses this issue through instruction. It teaches people how to focus their mind in order to relieve tension and fall asleep more easily. Relaxation training employs a combination of the following techniques:

  • muscle relaxation
  • rhythmic abdominal breathing
  • meditation
  • and guided imagery


This style of CBTi is sometimes used together with relaxation training. Patients are provided information about their bodies – such as blood pressure, heart rate and muscle tension – and are then trained to concentrate and lower these physiological indicators. Over the course of multiple visits, patients become more efficient at relaxing and falling asleep.

Cognitive Control

This type of therapy helps identify thoughts and feelings that are keeping you awake or waking you up during the night. A clinician or therapist can then guide you replacing negative thoughts with positive and relaxing feelings. Cognitive control often employs worry dumps or guided imagery to free your mind and rest.

Paradoxical Intention

Using reverse psychology, clinicians encourage patients to do their nighttime routine but then try to stay awake. Instead of focusing on falling asleep and worrying about the problems inhibiting it, some find relief from insomnia by doing the opposite.

Discuss your struggles with insomnia with your doctor and consult a sleep specialist to see if these methods could help improve your quality of sleep. If you’re seeking treatment for insomnia that doesn’t rely on sleeping pills, CBTi may be the best solution for you.

Can’t get to sleep? Read: 10 Scientifically Proven Ways to Fall Asleep Faster.

Where Can You Find CBTi Therapy?

Though effective, it can still be difficult to access this type of treatment for insomnia. As a long-term, drug-free option, the potential advantages of CBTi are huge. We expect more people to seek out CBTi as awareness increases among doctors and patients.

Sleep Health Solutions works with people to first properly diagnose their sleep disorder. Then, we can develop a therapy plan together. We have helped many people to successfully manage the symptoms of insomnia through cognitive behavior therapy. By applying our specialized training, we help clients to fall asleep faster and enjoy less disrupted sleep through the night.

Contact Sleep Health Solutions at (330) 923-0228 or online to learn more about this innovative and effective therapy for insomnia.

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