Cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia

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Cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia (CBT-I) is a method for treating insomnia without (or alongside) medications. The goal is to reduce sleep onset latency and encourage sleep maintenance throughout the sleeping period.

Components of CBT-I[edit]

Behavioral practices to treat insomnia[1]
  • Practicing sleep hygiene by keeping a good sleeping environment
    • removing distractions such as television, computers, and other engaging activities[1]
    • keeping the sleeping space dark and quiet[1]
    • having a good bed[1]
    • Committing to a consistent bedtime[1]
    • Committing to a consistent wake-up time[1]
    • Avoiding staying in bed while awake for a longer time period than ideal for going to sleep. A recommended practice is relaxing elsewhere, such as by sitting, then returning to bed when one is more likely to sleep.[1]
  • Stimulus control - limit stimulation before bed
    • Finishing meals three hours before bedtime, especially for those prone to indigestion or heartburn[1]
    • avoiding alcoholic or caffeinated beverages before sleeping[1]
    • Because medications can delay or disrupt sleep, choosing to take them far in advance of sleeping times is preferred unless a physician directs otherwise[1]
    • Avoiding smoking for at least 3 hours before bed[1]
    • Engaging in regular physical exercise, but not within 4 hours of going to sleep[1]
    • Avoiding stressful situations before time for sleep[1]
    • Avoiding napping too soon before sleep[1]

Stimulus control[edit]

Stimulus control[2] aims to associate the bed with sleeping and limit its association with stimulating behavior. People with insomnia are guided to do the following:

Sleep hygiene[edit]

Sleep hygiene aims to control the environment and behaviors that precede sleep. This involves limiting substances that can interfere with proper sleep, particularly within 4–6 hours of going to bed. These substances include caffeine, nicotine and alcohol. Sometimes a light bedtime snack, such as milk or peanut butter, is recommended. The environment in which one sleeps, and the environment that directly precedes sleep, is also very important. Patients should engage in relaxing activities prior to going to bed, such as reading, writing, listening to calming music or taking a bath. Importantly, they should limit stimulating activity such as watching television, using a computer or being around bright lights.

Sleep restriction[edit]

Sleep restriction[3] is probably the most controversial step of CBT-I, since it initially involves the restriction of sleep. Although it is counterintuitive, it is a significant and effective component of CBT-I. It involves controlling time in bed (TIB) based upon the person's sleep efficiency in order to restore the homeostatic drive to sleep. Sleep Efficiency (SE) is the measure of reported Total Sleep Time (TST), the actual amount of time the patient is usually able to sleep, compared with his or her TIB.

Sleep Efficiency = (Total Sleep Time / Time In Bed)

This process may take several weeks or months to complete, depending on the person's initial Sleep Efficiency and how effective the treatment is for them individually. Daytime sleepiness is a side-effect during the first week or two of treatment, so those who operate heavy machinery or otherwise cannot safely be sleep deprived should not undergo this process.

Relaxation training[edit]

Relaxation training is a collection of practices that can help people to relax throughout the day and particularly close to bedtime. It is useful for insomnia patients with difficulty falling asleep. However it is unclear whether or not it is useful for those who tend to wake up in the middle of the night or very early in the morning. Techniques include hypnosis, guided imagery and meditation.

Cognitive therapy[edit]

Cognitive therapy[2][4][5][6] within CBT-I is not synonymous with versions of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy that are not targeted at insomnia. When dealing with insomnia, cognitive therapy is mostly about offering education about sleep in order to target dysfunctional beliefs/attitudes about sleep.

Cognitive therapists will directly question the logical basis of these dysfunctional beliefs in order to point out their flaws. If applicable, the therapist will arrange a situation for the individual to test these flawed beliefs. For instance, many insomniacs believe that if they don't get enough sleep they will be tired the entire following day. They will then try to conserve energy by not moving around or by taking a nap. These responses are understandable but can exacerbate the problem, since they do not generate energy. If instead a person actively tries to generate energy by taking a walk, talking to a friend and getting plenty of sunlight, he or she may find that the original belief was self-fulfilling and not necessarily true.

Worry is a common factor of insomnia. Therapists will work to control worry and rumination with the use of a thought record, a log where a person writes down concerns. The therapist and the patient can then approach each of these concerns individually.

Applications to Mood Disorders[edit]

Psychiatric mood disorders, such as major depressive disorder (MDD) and bipolar disorder, are intertwined with sleep disorders. This is evident in the high rate of comorbidity with psychiatric disorders and insomnia and other sleep disorders. Most people with psychiatric diagnoses have significantly reduced sleep efficiency and total sleep time compared to controls.[7] Thus it is not surprising that treating insomnia with CBT-I can help to improve mood disorders. A study in 2008 showed that augmenting antidepressant medication with CBT-I in patients with MDD and comorbid insomnia helped to alleviate symptoms for both disorders.[8] The overlap between mood- and sleep disorders is just starting to be rigorously explored,[9] but the efficacy of CBT-I for MDD and bipolar disorder looks promising.



  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n Consumer Reports; Drug Effectiveness Review Project (July 2008), "Evaluating Newer Sleeping Pills Used to Treat Insomnia: Comparing Effectiveness, Safety, and Price", Best Buy Drugs (Consumer Reports): 4, retrieved 4 June 2013 
  2. ^ a b c Morin, CM; Bootzin, RR; Buysse, DJ; Edinger, JD; Espie, CA; Lichstein, KL (2006). "Psychological and behavioral treatment of insomnia:update of the recent evidence (1998-2004)". Sleep 29 (11): 1398–414. PMID 17162986. 
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  4. ^ a b Sivertsen, B.; Omvik, S; Pallesen, S; Bjorvatn, B; Havik, OE; Kvale, G; Nielsen, GH; Nordhus, IH (2006). "Cognitive Behavioral Therapy vs Zopiclone for Treatment of Chronic Primary Insomnia in Older Adults: A Randomized Controlled Trial". JAMA 295 (24): 2851–8. doi:10.1001/jama.295.24.2851. PMID 16804151. 
  5. ^ Harvey, A; Sharpley, A; Ree, M; Stinson, K; Clark, D (2007). "An open trial of cognitive therapy for chronic insomnia". Behaviour Research and Therapy 45 (10): 2491–501. doi:10.1016/j.brat.2007.04.007. PMID 17583673. 
  6. ^ Harvey, A.G (2002). "A cognitive model of insomnia". Behaviour Research and Therapy 40 (8): 869–93. doi:10.1016/S0005-7967(01)00061-4. PMID 12186352. 
  7. ^ Benca, Ruth M.; Obermeyer, WH; Thisted, RA; Gillin, JC (1992). "Sleep and Psychiatric Disorders: A Meta-analysis". Archives of General Psychiatry 49 (8): 651–68; discussion 669–70. doi:10.1001/archpsyc.1992.01820080059010. PMID 1386215. 
  8. ^ Manber, R; Edinger, JD; Gress, JL; San Pedro-Salcedo, MG; Kuo, TF; Kalista, T (2008). "Cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia enhances depression outcome in patients with comorbid major depressive disorder and insomnia". Sleep 31 (4): 489–95. PMC 2279754. PMID 18457236. 
  9. ^ Kennaway, D. J. (2010). "Review: Clock genes at the heart of depression". Journal of Psychopharmacology 24 (2 Suppl): 5–14. doi:10.1177/1359786810372980. PMID 20663803. 
  10. ^ Jacobs, Gregg D.; Pace-Schott, EF; Stickgold, R; Otto, MW (2004). "Cognitive Behavior Therapy and Pharmacotherapy for Insomnia: A Randomized Controlled Trial and Direct Comparison". Archives of Internal Medicine 164 (17): 1888–96. doi:10.1001/archinte.164.17.1888. PMID 15451764. Lay summaryAmerican Family Physician (July 15, 2005). 
  11. ^ Espie, Colin A.; Kyle, Simon D.; Williams, Chris; Ong, Jason C.; Douglas, Neil J.; Hames, Peter; Brown, June S.L. (2012). "A Randomized, Placebo-Controlled Trial of Online Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Chronic Insomnia Disorder Delivered via an Automated Media-Rich Web Application". SLEEP 35 (6): 769–81. doi:10.5665/sleep.1872. PMC 3353040. PMID 22654196. 
  12. ^ Morin, CM; Culbert, JP; Schwartz, SM (1994). "Nonpharmacological interventions for insomnia: A meta-analysis of treatment efficacy". The American journal of psychiatry 151 (8): 1172–80. PMID 8037252.