A new UK study finds that a form of cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) can help people improve their ability to sleep.
In Britain, people report having insomnia more often than any other psychological condition, including anxiety, depression and even pain. And the primary treatment is usually medication.
“It is well known that sleeping pills can be addictive and their efficacy wears off over time,” said Kevin Morgan, Ph.D., of Loughborough University, a sleep specialist who led the trials. The showed that cognitive-behavioral therapy for insomnia (CBTi) can benefit people with insomnia at any age.
“It is also known that CBTi can treat insomnia more effectively than drugs in the long term,” Morgan said. “However, until now major barriers to delivering CBTi have included a shortage of trained therapists and the absence of an appropriate clinical service through which to deliver treatments.”
Researchers learned that the intervention can help individuals who suffer from insomnia because of chronic illnesses, as well as those who are particularly prone to insomnia.
The most unexpected outcome of the research is the success of the CBTi training which was developed, initially, to enable participants to take part in the project. Researchers say the technique has been taught to many members of the National Health Service, including nurses.
“CBTi is not a difficult concept,” Morgan pointed out. “It is a question of encouraging insomnia sufferers to think about their sleep in a different way and to change the habits that bring about their sleep problems.”
The trials involved delivering the principles of cognitive behavioral management for insomnia, in a structured program of self-help. Patients were given six weekly booklets that explained how sleep works and how to gain control of it. They were given access to a helpline, staffed by “expert patients” who were themselves insomnia sufferers.
Said Morgan, “The booklets teach us how to ‘retrust’ the bedroom and relearn how to link it with sleep. In the same way that we do with food, for example thinking about entering a restaurant can trigger your mouth to water and anticipate food, so, entering your bedroom should bring on a desire to sleep.”
He called it “a question of giving people the tools to break the vicious circle.”
“Most sufferers have never considered that they can do anything about their insomnia. But now, with the possibility of training therapists to deliver self-help CBTi from doctors’ surgeries that is set to change.”