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Insomnia: latest research & effective treatment

Updated: Nov 29, 2020

Most people have difficulty sleeping at some point in their lives. Usually it happens during times of stress and goes away in a few days or weeks without treatment. When insomnia lasts for months or even years, professional help is often required to break the cycle. Untreated insomnia causes problems in daytime functioning including fatigue, irritability, and difficulty with concentration and memory. Long-term, chronic insomnia may also be associated with depression, increased drug and alcohol use, and heart disease.

Insomnia can take several forms and have many causes, but it always has certain characteristics.

Insomnia occurs in four distinct areas:

  • Difficulty falling asleep

  • Difficulty staying asleep

  • Waking up too early

  • Poor quality sleep

Insomnia reduces overall quality of life including:

  • Fatigue

  • Daytime Sleepiness

  • Attention, Concentration or Memory Impairment

  • Poor work performance

  • Irritability

  • Headaches

  • Worries about sleep

In recent years new non-medication treatments have been developed and rigorously tested that are more acceptable and accessible to those suffering from insomnia. The medical approach is to use sleep medications to treat insomnia. Medications have an important role in the short-term management of insomnia, but they often provide only a temporary fix and come with side effects and other potential complications and don't address the underlying causes of insomnia. Clinical studies show Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for insomnia (CBT-I) is as effective as medication in the short-term and more effective in the long-term for persistent or chronic insomnia.

CBT for Insomnia as well as other complimentary approaches including mindfulness-based therapy have been shown to improve sleep, increase relaxation and well-being.

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT-i) is an evidence-based treatment for chronic insomnia that is often as good or better than medication alone. CBT-i combines several clinically proven interventions tailored to each persons particular needs. Possible interventions include: stimulus control therapy, sleep compression therapy, relaxation training, cognitive therapy, bright light therapy, sleep hygiene education and other individualized approaches.

Any treatment for insomnia starts with your concerns and identifying the factors that are affecting your sleep quality. A sleep diary can be an important part of assessment and evaluation of the effectiveness of therapy and is completed by you at home for 1-2 weeks prior to making changes to your sleep. The free CBT-i Coach App can be a useful tool for initial education and keeping a sleep diary.

In sleep therapy sessions, I typically include a combination of talk therapy and adjustments to behavioural and lifestyle factors. We will use a series of strategies to break the cycle of insomnia and help you recognize and change patterns of thoughts and behaviors that can contribute to sleeping problems. Depending on your situation, treatment may also focus on eliminating problem behaviours and environmental influences.

Benefits of professional Cognitive Behavioural Therapy for Insomnia:

  • Therapy is generally short-term (often 4 or 5 sessions produce significant benefits).

  • Minimal side effect profile (side effects may include: temporary daytime sleepiness and irritability, extra time to complete sleep diary).

  • Research has shown improvements in sleep are as good, and in some cases better and more durable than the best sleeping medications.

  • Treatment benefits last long after therapy has ended.

  • Can be successfully used to treat insomnia occurring with many other medical or mental health conditions including chronic pain, anxiety and post-traumatic stress.

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