Insomnia — a sleeping disorder where you have difficulty falling and/or staying asleep — is not an uncommon reality for many. In fact, approximately 70 million Americans struggle with insomnia. And while not getting a good night’s sleep is uncomfortable, frequently waking up in the middle of the night can quickly become unbearable.
The good news is that developments in mental health treatment have come to include the use of cognitive behavioral therapy in helping treat insomnia. This is especially beneficial for those who are seeking relief from chronic insomnia without the use of sleep aids like medication.
What causes insomnia?
In order to better treat insomnia, it’s important to understand what can cause insomnia in the first place.
A number of factors — from psychological to physical — can contribute to its development, including:
- Stress – This may be from work, school, finances, symptoms of PTSD or even stress about not being able to fall asleep, which, instead of relaxing the mind, triggers it and keeps it firing when you’re supposed to be sleeping
- Lifestyle choices – Using your bed for activities other than sleeping, consuming caffeine or heavy meals close to bedtime, napping later in the afternoon, sleeping in in the morning or working a job with an irregular schedule (like night shifts) can negatively impact your sleep quality
- A mental health disorder – 40 percent of those whole struggle with insomnia also struggle with a mental health disorder like anxiety, depression or bipolar disorder
- A chronic health condition – Any illness that is painful or uncomfortable is likely to disrupt sleep and keep individuals awake for extended periods of time
- Hormones – The hormonal changes experienced during puberty, pregnancy and menopause commonly disrupt one’s sleep schedule;
- Electronics – Electronics emit blue light and stimulate movement, both of which trigger the brain to remain awake and alert.
Some individuals who suffer from chronic insomnia choose to use sleep aids like medication to help promote a better night’s sleep. However, these medications don’t get to the root of the problem, but only take away symptoms. In order to find lasting relief from insomnia, certain lifestyle changes will need to occur.
Insomnia treatment options
Treating insomnia is not a one-time solution, and may take some trial and error to find what works for you, or to determine what in your life is affecting your sleep. From adjusting your lifestyle to seeing a sleep therapist, there are a number of options available to help you get a better night’s sleep.
Adjust your lifestyle
Take a look at the activities you do right before bed — do you drink a lot of caffeine or alcohol? Do you spend a lot of time on your phone, scrolling social media? Do you eat dinner shortly before you go to sleep? Is your bedroom a place of relaxation, or is it also your work-from-home office?
Examining your habits before bedtime is an important first step in getting back to a healthy sleeping routine. Limit the amount of time spent on electronics before bedtime and shut them all off at least 30 minutes before sleeping. Train your brain to understand that your bed is for sleeping, and avoid doing homework or working on it. Readjust your schedule, if possible, and find an earlier time for dinner.
Simply by starting with these adjustments, you may begin to notice an improved difference in your quality of sleep.
Consider a sleep therapist
While some conditions like mental health disorders and illnesses characterized by chronic pain, can benefit from lifestyle changes, most can’t be completely cured this way. Therefore, they may continue to disrupt your sleep even after these lifestyle changes have been made. This is where cognitive behavioral therapy for sleep health plays an important role.
CBT sessions with a sleep therapist are designed to restructure sleep behaviors and help clients better understand and handle insomnia. Your therapist will likely have you begin a sleep journal where you detail the routines of your sleep — when you went to bed, what you did beforehand and how long you slept. You will track how many hours you were awake for the night and what you did during that time.
Additionally, CBT will teach you muscle relaxation techniques, mindfulness and breathing exercises and how to stop useless thoughts (like panic about not being able to fall asleep). You may also be instructed to spend less time in bed, restricting your time to only when you’re asleep and getting up when you are awake.
Through the practice of the habits learned during CBT, you can slowly begin to see an improvement in chronic insomnia and your sleep health overall.
Improve your sleep health
To start your journey towards better sleep, consider contacting The Light Program. Call our offices at 610-644-6464 or visit our website to get in touch with a counselor who can put you back on track toward a good night’s rest.