Insomnia is a complex and highly prevalent sleep disorder. Chances are high that you or someone you know has difficulty sleeping when you want to sleep (at the beginning, in the middle, and/or at the end of their sleep period) and it’s negatively affecting your life.
Sometimes, insomnia can be described as just having poor quality of sleep. If you have trouble sleeping, you might have reduced productivity at work, decreased concentration at school, increased irritability with members of your family, or decreased enjoyment of life.
The good news is that insomnia is treatable! You don’t have to continue to suffer and assume that “this is just the way it is” (and forever shall be). Unfortunately, many people turn to prescription or over-the-counter medications and discover that the medications don’t work as well as they would like. Or the medications stop working so they try a different dose or a new drug altogether. Months or years later, the insomnia is still there because the medications only treat the symptoms, not the underlying causes.
The gold standard treatment for insomnia is called Cognitive-Behavioral Treatment (CBT) and it doesn’t involve taking any medication. What we know about insomnia is that once it has become a pattern, it can take on a life of its own and become a self-perpetuating cycle. CBT for insomnia works because it is designed to treat the underlying causes of insomnia.
CBT can help you change thought habits (cognitive) and activity habits (behavioral) that are probably contributing to the insomnia. For example, “It’s just the way I am wired” or “I can’t sleep without medication” or “I won’t be able to function if I don’t get some sleep” are examples of thought habits that are contributing to the insomnia. Behaviorally, it can be tempting to sleep in late after a night of poor sleep or get productive in the middle of a sleepless night. Those habits are also working against you.
These are the kinds of thought patterns and habits we focus on changing in CBT. Sleep improvements are not immediate and not always easy, but this treatment is effective and most people feel it’s worth the effort to get their lives back and feel “normal” again.
Our bodies are designed to sleep and believe it or not, it’s as natural as breathing. One of the main goals of Cognitive Behavioral Treatment of insomnia is to help you get out of your own way so your body and mind can do what they are designed to do… Sleep on a regular schedule, sleep when you’re tired, function with alertness throughout the day, and be able to access your best self.
Heather Finley, Ph.D., CBSM, is a licensed psychologist certified in Behavioral Sleep Medicine who works in the UVM Medical Center Sleep Program.