A little-known but effective insomnia treatment

Created date

September 25th, 2015

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a type of psychotherapy that is used for a multitude of problems. It has been shown to be effective for primary insomnia (not due to an underlying condition), but little is known about its effectiveness for secondary insomnia (due to concomitant conditions such as emotional problems, chronic pain, or heart disease). 

A survey by the National Institute on Aging found that 28% of seniors reported difficulties falling asleep and 42% reported problems in both falling asleep and staying asleep. Sleep problems were also associated with respiratory symptoms, physical disabilities, nonprescription medications, and depression.

Review of research

Researchers from Boston University and Rush University Medical Center wanted to find out if CBT actually helped people who had insomnia with a concomitant illness, so they conducted a review of 37 studies on the topic. After using statistics to analyze the data, they found that CBT was effective in improving insomnia symptoms for 36% of patients with comorbid conditions. The positive effects were noted mostly in people with psychiatric conditions such as depression and anxiety, but a significant improvement was also found in people with medical problems. The researchers stressed that while these results are important, larger-scale studies are needed to confirm their findings.

CBT techniques can involve sleep hygiene education, progressive relaxation, sleep restriction therapy, and relapse prevention—depending upon someone’s individual problems and needs. It can also be combined with other measures such as medication.