woman sleeping

Insomnia treatments: How to use CBT methods to help you sleep better

Sick of struggling with your sleep? Try these three CBT-I methods from a sleep psychologist.

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There’s nothing more frustrating than tossing and turning in bed, not being able to drift off. But, not getting the right amount of shut-eye you need can also impact your health, with tiredness causing increased stress and difficulty concentrating

If you’re having trouble sleeping night after night and feel like you’ve tried everything to nod off, from reducing your caffeine intake to cutting out screen time in the evening, experimenting with some more focused techniques could help improve your sleep.

Cognitive behavioural therapy, or CBT, is commonly used to help treat mental health issues like anxiety and depression, but it can also be used to help with sleeplessness. 

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“Cognitive behavioural therapy for insomnia (CBT-I) works best when tailored towards a specific person,” says Ana Brito, director of sleep coaching for insomnia at Sleep.8. There are a huge number of tools from CBT-I that you can try out yourself to figure out which ones work best for you.

These tools are useful for anyone struggling with their sleep, even though they’re generally used, in a medical setting, for those struggling with insomnia.

Stimulus control

“If you wake up in the middle of the night or you’re struggling to fall asleep for more than 20 minutes, get out of bed,” Ana says. “Go and get a glass of water, do some meditation, walk around your living room.”

Stimulus control trains your mind and body so that going to bed means going to sleep via learned association. Getting out of bed when you can’t sleep is a good way to practise this.

You should keep your lights dim so you’re not interrupted by light exposure. “If you lie there for more than 20 minutes, you might start to get stressed about not being able to sleep,” Ana adds.

Progressive muscle relaxation (PMR) 

“Progressive relaxation involves contracting and relaxing different muscle groups one-by-one, usually accompanied by guided meditation,” Ana explains. 

This technique will help you to feel more physically and mentally relaxed, as it not only sends the body signals to relax but it also keeps your mind occupied.

You should spend about 10-15 minutes practising PMR, tensing each muscle for a few seconds and then slowly relaxing them for about 20-30 seconds. You can either start at the top or the bottom of your body.

Thought records

“During the day, write down your negative thoughts and worries on a piece of paper and try to find a solution or plan to address them,” Ana says. “This will help to make sure that bedtime isn’t the only quiet time of your day when negative thoughts will inevitably arise.”

Write down your thoughts and what you can do to address them. When those thoughts come at night, you’ll then know that they’ve already been addressed. You can do this at any point during the day, but it’s crucial to take the time to do so before bedtime.

If you are seriously struggling with your sleep and it has been having a severe impact on your life for months, you should speak to your GP via the NHS.

Images: Getty and Ana Brito

  • Ana Brito, sleep physiologist

    Ana Brito headshot
    Ana Brito is Sleep. 8's sleep physiologist.

    Ana is a certified expert somnologist. She has 16 years of clinical and educational experience in the UK and Portugal. She joined Sleep.8 in January 2021 as a sleep expert and is currently the Director of Sleep Coaching for Insomnia at Sleep.8.