Did you know that an estimated 10% of adults in America suffer from chronic insomnia, with 30 – 35% of us experiencing brief symptoms of it? That’s an incredibly high number of people who are parenting, driving, working, going to school, managing a household, and relating to others from the vantage point of a sleep deficit.
While your sleepless nights may be a boon for Starbucks, they can have a negative impact on your health and well-being. The symptoms of insomnia include:
- Poor concentration
- Memory problems
- Irritability and other mood disturbances
- Carelessness and lack of attention to detail, and
These symptoms can be detrimental to your daily functioning and can lead to more serious health issues, including high blood pressure and depression.
So what do we do about it?
For many people, the treatment option that first springs into their mind is medication. The pharmaceutical industry has done an admirable job of marketing their sleep-aid products. Indeed, there are many new sleep aids that have been developed that can provide effective short-term relief for the symptoms of insomnia. But what the pharmaceutical companies are less likely to emphasize in their glossy magazine ads is that most doctors prefer that sleep medications are used as a temporary measure. Unfortunately, the drug companies don’t tell you that you can develop a dependency on them, that they can lose their efficacy over time, that they can have side effects, and that they are only one potential part of a treatment plan for insomnia.
Enter cognitive therapy for insomnia (CBT-I), which involves a short term commitment and active and results-oriented treatment. CBT-I offers education to insomnia sufferers about sleep and optimal sleep times and conditions, teaches relaxation and mindfulness strategies, helps clients to identify patterns and behaviors that may unwittingly undermine sleep, and helps them to improve their sleep efficiency (the ratio of the amount of time you actually sleep versus how much time you are actively trying to sleep). Unlike traditional counseling which may seem open-ended, CBT-I (just like cognitive therapy in general) is focused and time-limited, typically ranging from 4 – 8 sessions.
Just because the treatment time is relatively short does not mean it is less effective. Numerous studies have shown that while medications can be very helpful in the short term, CBT-I helps clients to make and maintain long-term progress with their insomnia by addressing the underlying issues and stressors that contribute to sleep disturbance. Even 6 months after treatment, clients continue to report improvement in their insomnia symptoms.
Where to get CBT-I
There’s an unfortunate shortage in trained professionals who offer CBT-I but an area as large as the DC Metro area has a few. Take a look at the American Society for Sleep Medicine website or do a search on Psychology Today’s therapist finder. I also offer CBT-I at my practice — Nova Terra Therapy — in Burke, Virginia. If you’re not close to a CBT-I practitioner, like the accessibility of apps, or want to get the most cost effective treatment to start, there are a number for sleep that apply CBT principles. CBT-i Coach and Sleepio are a few of the more well-known apps. Somryst is another software program for insomnia but you’ll have to get a prescription for your doctor.
The present and future for treatment of insomnia is very bright. If you are an insomnia sufferer, consider investigating CBT-i as a possible treatment for those missing z’s.