CBT, A Sleep Solution Without The Side Effects

Cognitive behavioural therapy is a sleep solution without side effects. The foundation of a healthy life is our sleep and improving this area of your life will transform every other aspect. If you struggle to sleep you are not alone, one out of four people reports having trouble with sleeping. Many pop a sleeping pill to help get some much-needed Z’s. But these drugs come with side effects and don’t provide you with the best quality sleep that you need to feel refreshed.

We all have some nights where sleep is a struggle and they are unpleasant but if this goes on for longer than a month it is time to address your sleep and improve it to avoid the effects and impact on your life. I’ve included an excellent video in the useful links below-called ‘Sleep is your Superpower’ by Dr Mathew Walker. It will really change how you think about sleep.

The Main Benefits of Good Sleep Are

Improved concentration

Good energy levels and motivation

Improved mood

Greater capacity to learn and improved memory

less weight gain, reduced appetite

Improved immune function, less illness and a longer life

Reduced stress levels

The First steps

The first step in addressing a sleep problem is to have any medical conditions ruled out by your general practitioner. A general health check-up by your surgery is a great first step.

Then you can implement these sleep hygiene strategies, listed below

Begin to relax and prepare for bed at least 2 hours before sleep.

A cool dark room promotes sleep the temperature should be around 18 Celsius.

Create a good bedtime routine and stick with it even at weekends.

Go to bed and get up at the same time every day.

Use lavender to relax you at night – spray your pillow.

Magnesium is a good aid for sleep.

Have a warm bath with Epsom salts to relax your physiology.

Don’t spend too long in bed not sleeping, you need to associate bed with sleep.

Ensure your environment is conducive to sleep – comfortable, tidy and dark.

No alcohol or caffeine.

Avoid phones, Ipads and digital engagement in the two hours before bed.

No eating in the 2 hours before bed to settle digestion.

Cognitive behavioural therapy is now the first-line treatment for sleep problems and insomnia and has been shown to improve the amount of sleep you get along with the quality of your sleep.

If you have been struggling with your sleep and have followed the key recommendations and are still not noticing an improvement in your sleep, then some individual CBT therapy to help you unpick what is maintaining the problem is likely to be helpful.

The key concept of CBT is that your thoughts, feelings and behaviours are all interconnected and can trap you into unhelpful patterns. CBT helps you to break any unhelpful patterns you are in so you can deal with sleep problems in a more positive way.

The first few sessions of CBT is called the assessment phase, where you will work with your therapist to become aware of your current thinking and coping strategies and to explore any other contributing or maintaining factors.

The next step in CBT is to start a sleep diary, recording every aspect of your routine and sleep the aim is to get as much information as possible. You will then review that information with your therapist and develop new strategies to improve the amount and quality of sleep.  it can take approximately one-two months for an improved sleep pattern to be established.

One of the reasons that CBT is so effective is that it helps you to correct unhelpful thinking patterns and a key maintaining factor of sleep problems is often how we think. Anxious thinking often plays a significant role in poor sleep and needs to be addressed

Thinking and Your Sleep

CBT-Sleep-DiagramReverse Sleep Psychology

Another key component to sleep problems is that the more you try to force yourself to sleep the less sleep you will have. The key is to accept that you won’t sleep and aim to rest instead, this isn’t easy and it does take practise but it’s a really powerful tool in improving sleep.

Accepting that you won’t sleep sounds strange and initially panics some people but it’s often the trying to force yourself to sleep and increasing the pressure on yourself to sleep, which causes significant stress in the night and exhaustion the following day due to adrenaline and the stress hormones being released in your body.

When people struggle to sleep they can find themselves doing lots of things to help them sleep but it’s an automatic process that doesn’t need much attention apart from a good routine. When you ask a person who doesn’t have any problems sleeping what they do and how much attention they give their sleep they will say they do very little but as sleep problems increase effort and focus increases with it. Less is more with sleep.

Useful Links

Your GP is your first point of call for a full check-up and they can organise a referral for CBT on the NHS in the Uk and also give you an overview of treatment options for sleep and insomnia. If you only do one thing from this watch the Video by Mathew Walker it’s really fantastic.

Sleep is Your Superpower – Video by Mathew Walker

How to Choose a CBT Therapist

What is Cognitive Behavioural Therapy

The CBT Journal

The Sleep Council




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Sarah Rees

Sarah is a fully accredited Cognitive Behavioural Therapist and mental health writer delivering Modern Mental Health for you and with you in Mind. Sarah is the author of ‘The CBT Journal’ which helps you write for your wellbeing incorporating CBT techniques. For more information and to keep in touch have a look at sarahdrees.co.uk.