Tired driving is considered as dangerous as driving under the influence, and without adequate sleep, every system and cell in our body can be damaged. That’s a long way of saying that sleep is really important. Unfortunately, many of the people we work with at the Center for CBT in New York City struggle to get quality, restful sleep. The good news is that cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) can improve quality and quantity of sleep and help you fall asleep more quickly. In this blog, we’ll walk through some basic skills of C BT for Insomnia (CBT-I) that helps people fall asleep and sleep more soundly.
What is CBT-I?
Cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia, CBT-I, is a specific therapy approach that’s all about helping people who are struggling with sleep. CBT is a therapy practice that helps people develop a deeper understanding of the way their thoughts, feelings, and actions are connected to help them make positive changes. CBT-I applies this knowledge to helping people learn to fall asleep more quickly and sleep more soundly. The CBT-I process is a short, structured approach that is evidence-based and proven effective in addressing insomnia.
How Does CBT-I Help?
CBT-I typically only takes a few months (six to eight sessions) to complete. The approach combines elements of CBT where clients explore the interconnectedness of thoughts, feelings, and actions to determine how they are affecting sleep. Then, steps are taken to realign the client’s thinking, feeling, and experiencing, so they can achieve a better night’s sleep. Specifically, you’ll work with your therapist to:
- Change thinking about sleep by understanding and changing inaccurate thoughts like when you keep thinking things like, “I’ll never fall asleep,” or “There’s no point sleeping now. I have to get up in two hours.”
- Change feelings about sleep to increase the ability to achieve restful sleep. People struggling with insomnia find themselves feeling anxious about falling asleep, angry or frustrated that they can’t stay asleep, hopeless that they’ll be able to get back to sleep, and a whole myriad of complex emotions. Learning ways to recognize and process these emotions quickly is the key to preventing them from negatively impacting your sleep.
- Change behaviors that may impede sleep. You may want to change habits like drinking too much caffeine, watching TV in bed, or napping during the day to start sleeping better at night. Additionally, you may want to add more positive habits like relaxation training, deep breathing, and removal of outside stimuli.
Does it Really Work?
While the CBT-I process can take practice and time, research indicates that between 70% and 80% of clients who undergo CBT-I see a significant improvement in quantity and quality of sleep. Additionally, the results seemed to be sustained over time. In fact, The American College of Physicians recommended CBT-I as the first option to treat insomnia prior to using medications or other medical interventions to improve sleep, especially for people who cannot safely take medication, including expectant mothers and those undergoing cancer treatments.
Can I Do Anything to Start Sleeping Better today?
During therapy, a clinician can walk through the CBT-I steps with you to help you improve your skill and start improving your sleep. Below, we’re including a quick exercise you can practice tonight, so you can start sleeping better right away:
- Do not get into bed until you’re ready to fall asleep. If you’ve been getting only a few hours of sleep each night, but you spend several hours before you fall asleep in bed, consider getting into bed later at night. Don’t do anything once you get into bed except for sleeping. No reading, looking at your smartphone, or watching TV. Just sleep.
- Practice deep breathing. You can find numerous breathing exercises online that can help with sleep. Whichever one works for you is fine to use. Just take deep breaths and slowly exhale.
- Relax your muscles. Progressive muscle relaxation (PMR) is a great way to achieve muscle relaxation. Starting with the feet, tense then relax different muscle groups moving up your body as you continue your deep breathing exercises.
- Try meditation. This doesn’t need to be anything extremely technical. Instead, simply focus your mind on one thought, feeling, or sensation as you continue your deep breathing. Ignore any other thoughts or stimuli. Just find one thing and focus on it.
How Do I Get Started?
If you want to start sleeping better, processing difficult experiences, managing complex emotions, or otherwise living a more satisfying and authentic life, CBT therapy may be what you’re looking for. When you’re ready to get started, don’t hesitate to reach out to us at the Center for CBT in New York City to schedule a consultation with one of our knowledgeable professionals.