Cognitive Therapy for Sleep Problems

Cognitive therapy for sleep disorders

Cognitive therapy for sleep problems can offer relief but the approach does take time and effort. This option has appeal for people who want to address sleeping issues without taking medication.

What Is Cognitive Therapy

Cognitive therapy stems from psychotherapy, but it does not focus on the past. The therapist and patient work as a team to develop a goal-orientated approach to solving problems. The idea is to change emotional states and behavioral patterns through thought processes that focus on current issues and practical solutions.

The approach can be effective in treating various conditions including, but not limited to:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Phobias
  • Anger
  • Panic attacks
  • Pain management
  • High blood pressure

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

Behavior is an important element to consider as well. Many use cognitive behavioral therapy to treat sleep disorders, with focus placed upon thought processes, emotional responses and specific behaviors. When using cognitive therapy for sleep problems, behavior changes are likely to be part of the process. It helps to understand how influential thoughts are when it comes to shutting the brain off to sleep.

Thinking, Brain Waves and Insomnia

Anyone who has experienced a bout of insomnia can probably relate to the way thinking patterns affect sleeplessness. Consider the progression through a restless night. Many times, the person trying to fall asleep is under considerable stress, which may stem from their thought patterns. Running thoughts through your head is counterproductive because the mental exercise naturally puts the brain in an active state. The active thought processes are associated with beta waves, which can interfere with sleep. The problem occurs when you are unable to shift from the beta state to the alpha state.

The alpha state is a naturally receptive mode that people fall in and out of throughout the day. When a person is unable to switch from the active beta state to the alpha state, difficulty sleeping can occur. Just as thoughts can keep you awake, they can help you to fall asleep.

Cognitive Therapy for Sleep Problems

Using cognition to address sleeping problems begins with setting realistic goals while addressing some misconceptions about sleep. Identifying the specific beliefs and thought processes that contribute to the sleep disorder is important in cognitive therapy. A therapist may provide information about some of the following issues, but other sleep issues may apply as well:

  • Normal sleep patterns, including bimodal sleep patterns which are often confused with insomnia
  • Natural changes in sleeping patterns as people age
  • Behaviors that can interfere with sleep
    • Medication
    • Alcohol
    • Exercise
    • Napping
    • Diet
    • Bedtime routine

Stressful thoughts about sleep can lead to emotional responses that can keep a person awake. The emotions can cause physical responses including increased heart rate, making the possibility of falling asleep less likely. The cognitive therapy should be objective, allowing the person to take control of the emotional responses.

In addition, the treatment should be goal-orientated, focusing on changing behaviors in order to improve sleep habits. The new habits gradually replace the cycle of staying awake while desperately trying to fall asleep.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

Addressing the cognitive part of the sleep disorder is an important part of the treatment, but changing behaviors is very important, too. A specialist can help you to determine which type of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is best for your specific needs. Some options to consider include:

  • Cognition exercises guided by a therapist can help you identify core beliefs that interfere with your ability to fall asleep.
    • Guided imagery
    • Worry-time early in the day
  • Relaxation techniques can help ease you into the alpha state.
    • Hypnosis
    • Breathing exercises
    • Muscle tension and relaxation
  • Biofeedback can help you recognize the consequences of your thought patterns.
    • Emotional responses
    • Physical responses
  • Sleep hygiene exercises
  • Stimulus Control stems from behavioral psychology and it helps you to create positive responses to the process of falling asleep.
    • Limit activities in bed to sleep and intimacy
    • When you feel frustrated, get out of bed
  • Sleep restriction is a process that involves limiting the number of hours you spend in bed, starting with the lowest number of hours and gradually adding time until you reach your goal.

Cognitive therapy for sleep problems is a gradual approach that may be worth the effort in many cases. Although the techniques take some time to be effective, they do help people develop new patterns of thoughts, emotions and behavioral responses that are conducive to a good night's sleep.

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