As many as 70 million adults in the U.S. suffer from long-term sleep disorders, according to data from the American Sleep Association. The most common specific sleep condition is insomnia, which affects about 10 percent of adults.
Currently, the backbone of insomnia therapy involves medication and improving sleep hygiene, or the practice of creating healthier sleep habits and environments. Neither are shown to have long-term benefits for chronic insomnia.
But a lesser-known treatment called cognitive behavioral therapy focusing on insomnia (CBT-I) has been shown to be very effective in treating chronic insomnia. Combined with group therapy and individualized treatments, CBT-I offers patients longer-lasting benefits over leading insomnia medications, such as Ambien™ and Restoril™, and sleep hygiene techniques.
What is CBT-I?
CBT-I is a short-term, goal-oriented psychotherapy treatment that involves retraining the brain, identifying insomnia triggers, and learning how to adapt to the triggers to turn off your mind so you can get longer, more restful sleep. The goal of CBT-I is to address the thoughts and behaviors that keep you from getting a restful night’s sleep.
Some of the key pillars of CBT-I include:
- Cognitive and talk therapies that help you identify and work through mental or emotional hindrances to sleep
- Recognizing and controlling biofeedback, such as muscle tension, body temperature, and heart rate
- Relaxation training
- Sleep restriction to reset your ability to fall asleep when you get in bed
- Stimulus and environmental controls
- If you need help for insomnia, request an appointment with your primary care doctor to discuss treatment options.
What causes insomnia?
While many people have trouble sleeping from time to time, chronic insomnia is a condition that is characterized by long-term inability to fall asleep or stay asleep for an adequate amount of time. A number of factors can increase the risk for insomnia and make symptoms worse, including:
- Being a shallow sleeper, or one who is easily awakened by noise or other stimuli
- Having an anxiety, depression, or mania condition
- Living with stress, such as relationship issues, worries about work, or financial problems
- Sleeping in an uncomfortable environment (too hot or cold, too loud, etc.)
- Suffering certain medical conditions that affect sleep, such as sleep apnea, restless leg syndrome, chronic pain, thyroid dysfunction, COPD, asthma, heartburn, menopause, or urinary conditions
- Taking certain prescription or nonprescription drugs, such as pseudoephedrine, hyperactivity medications, antidepressants, beta blockers, steroids, or diuretics
- Using substances such as nicotine, caffeine, or alcohol
Insomnia issues increase with age and tend to affect more women than men. People who work third shift or various shifts also suffer insomnia more often than those who work regular day shifts.
If left untreated, insomnia can reduce immune function, causing you to get sick more often. Lack of sleep also can decrease the ability to control your blood pressure or blood sugar, cause headaches and gastrointestinal problems, and leave you feeling lethargic. Insomnia also can cause a range of mental and emotional issues, such as:
- Difficulty concentrating
- Impaired performance at work
- Negative mood
Five tips to help you get better sleep
If you have chronic insomnia, these tips likely won’t be enough on their own to improve your sleep. But if you occasionally have trouble sleeping, try these techniques to fall asleep faster and stay asleep:
- Avoid large meals and stimulants such as caffeine, chocolate, nicotine, or alcohol after noon. Alcohol can make you sleepy, but as it’s processed by the body, it can cause you to wake up.
- Do not watch the clock on your phone or alarm if you can’t sleep. Doing so can perpetuate anxiety about not sleeping.
- Go to another room if unable to fall asleep within 15-20 minutes. Read and engage in other quiet activities and return to bed only when sleepy. Repeat this step as many times as needed.
- Try to exercise earlier in the day. Because exercising is a stimulating activity, it can cause difficulty falling asleep if you work out within two to three hours of bedtime.
- Use your bedroom only for sleep and sex. Try to avoid eating, reading, watching television, or using your phone in bed. Blue light given off by electronic devices surpasses melatonin secretion and thus alters your circadian rhythm, preventing you from sleeping.
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