Cognitive Behavior Therapy for Insomnia

Cognitive behavior therapy for insomnia was the ultimate cure for my own insomnia. While all the other methods I used were quite helpful, including relaxation techniques, consistent schedule, sleep hygiene, and so on, nothing gave me as much relief as cognitive therapy. So while I discussed it in the article on CBT for insomnia, it’s time to go a little more in depth.

Cognitive behavior therapy for insomnia works primarily with through the conscious mind. It is a practical, proven method of changing your habitual thought patterns, but you must understand that these patterns are very powerful and influence many aspects of your life.

Cognitive therapy does not try to change the unconscious mind directly, as hypnosis does. Nor does it use spiritual guidance, meditation or visualization. Neither does it require motivational techniques to get pumped up with positive feelings. It is a very simple, unexciting, maybe even boring, technique that uses a ridiculously simple three-step process:

  • Identify the thoughts that are causing you the most problems. These often show up as short phrases that you can write down, such as “I can’t sleep and I know I’ll be so tired tomorrow. How horrible, how did I get into this mess? I may never get a good night’s sleep again. My life will be ruined.”
  • Once you have identified and written down the thoughts that are causing you the most pain and suffering, evaluate them. Are they true? Are they accurate? Are they helping you to sleep? Could there be another way to look at it? Could different thoughts, a different attitude about the same situation, make you feel differently? Wouldn’t it be interesting to find out?
  • Now you think up some different thoughts that are not as dark and dreary, ones that offer hope and comfort and maybe a new perspective on what you are really experiencing. They are also more accurate reflections of the situation you’re facing. Then you write those thoughts down.

To continue the example above, you could say something like…

“I can’t sleep right now, and that’s not pleasant. But it might not be as horrible as I think. After all, lots of people can get by with very little sleep and be fine. It is my anxiety and worry that’s causing me to suffer so much, not my sleep patterns. Insomnia can be treated very successfully. I haven’t yet found a cure, but I’m going to work on it every day. Eventually, I will get over this, though it may take some time. Meanwhile, I will just get through my days feeling a little tired and know it is not the end of the world.”

Once you have identified the more positive and accurate thoughts to replace your old ones with, write them down. Then read them out loud to yourself several times a day. This might seem silly, but this is the method that ultimately cured my insomnia. I wrote down rational, positive thoughts and read them out loud to myself every day.

How long does CBT take to work?

It takes as long as it takes. If you have never been exposed to cognitive behavior therapy before, it will take a while. Like anything else, you get better with practice.

Cognitive behavior therapy for insomnia is especially recommended if you have serious sleep anxiety. All the best methods of curing insomnia, including herbal remedies and sleep hygiene, will not help you sleep if anxiety is lurking underneath it all. You must acknowledge your anxious thoughts about sleep deprivation.

Is there a catch?

Of course, there is a catch (you didn’t think it would be THAT easy, right?). You could become anxious about doing your cognitive therapy as well. You could begin to wonder when it’s going to start working, whether you’re doing it right, whether it will really ever work, whether there’s something else that might work better, and soon you’ll find yourself back in the sleep anxiety state. It happens to everyone.

What do you do? You start over again with those thoughts, and you keep changing them to more helpful, productive thoughts. And reading them out loud, and so on.

Your negative voice will continue to harp away on how not sleeping is bad for you. The media reports of how terrible the effects of sleep deprivation are will not help. You must tune those reports out, as I’ve suggested in this article on the effects of insomnia. They won’t do you any good as long as you have sleep anxiety.

So what if cognitive behavior therapy for insomnia doesn’t work after trying it for several weeks?

  • Well, I’m hoping that you are also following the sleep hygiene methods put forth in the 10-day self help tutorial.
  • And I’m also hoping that you are NOT pressuring yourself to sleep, once you find out how un-helpful and unproductive that is.
  • I’m also hoping you are taking good care of your general health, eating properly, and exercising moderately.
  • And also paying attention to your body, practicing a simple breathing relaxation exercise whenever you have a quiet moment.
  • And also acknowledging that you may have subconscious causes of insomnia that you can try to uncover whenever you have a quiet moment.

But if nothing seems to be working, then I’m guessing that you’ve gotten into an insomnia rut, which does happen. And in that case, I recommend a visit to a good sleep doctor.

There can be something very therapeutic about the doctor-patient relationship that sometimes is needed to kickstart your treatment and get the thing in motion.

So the main thread of this article? Relax. Try cognitive behavior therapy for insomnia. It requires patience and diligence but will reward you over time.

Learn more about cognitive behavior therapy for insomnia…

Again, try the self help for insomnia tutorial, as it does use a CBT approach as much as possible.

Return to natural treatments for insomnia