Treat Insomnia the Natural Way

Before you pop that pill, see how cognitive behavior therapy can transform sleep as you know it.
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Treat Insomnia the Natural Way

Before you pop that pill, see how cognitive behavior therapy can transform sleep as you know it.

-Shelby Freedman Harris, Psy.D.,


We live in an overmedicated culture where popping a pill is often the first resort. Most people only know about pills when it comes to treating insomnia. We hear about them from friends and see commercials on TV. Although medications can be helpful for insomnia, sleep specialists do not consider them to be the first-line, gold standard treatment for insomnia. That’s where cognitive behavior therapy for insomnia (CBT-I) comes in.

CBT-I is a non-drug treatment and has benefitted many types of patients who have trouble sleeping: from those with primary insomnia to others who can’t sleep due to chronic pain, depression or anxiety. CBT-I consistently produces results that are comparable to, or even exceed, those of sleeping pills! Even one year after ending treatment, many patients continue to sleep well (rates that far outperform sleeping pills).

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CBT-I isn’t as easy as just popping a pill every night. It takes effort and patients need to be motivated. Treatment generally lasts from 4-12 sessions, with many patients making gains within the first three sessions. The remaining sessions are typically used for medication tapering, if necessary, and relapse prevention.

Although it is ideal to not be taking any sleeping pills at the start, patients do not need to discontinue these medications in order to benefit from CBT-I. Many patients decide to start treatment while on medication and gradually taper off (with the help of their doctor) once they have learned alternative techniques for their insomnia.

The initial stressors that may have caused poor sleep may vary from patient to patient (e.g. divorce, job stress, health issues, etc.), insomnia is thought to be sustained by certain behaviors that many people adopt as sleep worsens. Examples of these behaviors include going to bed early, sleeping in, napping, using alcohol as a sedative, increasing caffeine use, worrying about the amount of sleep being obtained and tossing and turning in bed. CBT-I focuses on changing these behaviors. Although sleep hygiene can help some people sleep better, CBT-I is not simply sleep hygiene. It consists of various components that help target the various behaviors that maintain the problem.

More tips for a good night’s sleep up next!

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