The bad news was my doctor didn’t really know how to effectively treat insomnia without drugs. And that’s not a surprise. Many if not most primary care physicians have minimal training or experience in treating insomnia, and typically only suggest mild behavioral techniques. Treating insomnia is not normally taught in most medical schools in depth, unless students or practitioners take specialized courses in sleep disorders and treatment.
My physician did suggest some basic behavioral techniques like exercising earlier in the day, not drinking coffee, cola, or other stimulants later in the day; sleeping in a dark and cool room; and similar practices known collectively as sleep hygiene. These for me helped but weren’t enough to break the tenacious hold of insomnia. These techniques alone were not enough to in effect reset my sleep system.
Nevertheless, it was a start. I realized sleep hygiene practices were all good ideas, and wanted more. In further researching sleep hygiene, I discovered how cognitive behavioral therapy is used very effectively to treat insomnia. This was a huge breakthrough for me.
Very simply put, I learned CBT has two parts, as one would expect: the cognitive and the behavioral.
The cognitive part refers to thoughts, emotions, and attitudes. It deals with the underlying mental processes that significantly contribute to insomnia.
The behavioral part refers collectively to actions we may or may not take, and specific things we do or don’t do. It includes many of the lifestyle choices we make that enable – or in some cases disable – good sleeping.
In CBT-I, both components work synergistically together and combine powerfully to effectively address the roots of primary insomnia, which refers to sleeping problems with no apparent medical or psychiatric cause.
CBT is one of many therapies deployed by mental health professionals. For our purposes, CBT is the one approach that has consistently been clinically proven to help insomniacs sleep better.
According to the National Institutes of Health, which has spent millions researching insomnia, CBT is “a psychology-based treatment that trains people to reduce anxiety and take other sleep-promoting steps – (it) is very effective, and doesn't cause side effects.”