Q: What is cognitive behavioral therapy? Is it good for insomnia?
A: As the name indicates, such therapy involves changing “maladaptive” thinking and behavior. Studies have found that cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is usually more effective in the long term for treating insomnia than sleeping pills, concluded a systematic review in BMC Family Practice last year.
CBT is a practical approach; you may need only a few sessions. For insomnia, the primary goal is to recognize and try to change thoughts and feelings about sleep that elevate stress levels and thus cause or exacerbate sleeplessness.
For example, a therapist might help you understand that worrying about sleeplessness can keep you awake. You may be able to train yourself to think of something else—or at least to refrain from catastrophic thoughts (“If I don’t sleep, I will fail that test and then I won’t get the job”). A therapist can help you see that even if you are not at your peak after a restless night, you’ll probably do okay anyway. Are you convinced that you can’t get along without sleeping pills? Therapy could guide you toward unmedicated sleep.
Your doctor may be able to refer you to a CBT therapist specializing in insomnia. Online cognitive behavioral programs for insomnia may help, too, according to a Canadian study published in the journal Sleep in 2009.