Sleep

Insomnia treatment: researchers are recommending Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBTi)

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Hollie Richardson
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Woman with insomnia

Researchers are recommending a course of therapy instead of sleeping pills to people who battle with insomnia.

We are a generation plagued by bad sleep. The World Sleep Society recently reported that a third of the global population will suffer from sleep problems at some point in their lives, while 10% will be diagnosed with insomnia. During the pandemic, nearly two-thirds of people in a study by King’s College London said their sleep had worsened. And let’s not even get started on how hard it can be to get to sleep in the heatwave we’re having. 

Now, new research has suggested that more GPs should prescribe a short course of intensive behavioural therapy instead of sleeping pills to insomniacs.

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An expert guide to understanding insomnia and how to deal with it

In a new paper in the Australian Journal Of General Practice, Adelaide Institute for Sleep Health (AISH) sleep experts from Flinders University have developed new clinical guidelines for Australian doctors to give family GPs insight into the “most effective” treatment for insomnia – Cognitive Behavioural Therapy for insomnia (or ‘CBTi’). According to the authors, CBTi improves insomnia, mental health and quality of life, and can be more successful than sleeping pills. 

Explaining what CBTi actually is, The Sleep Foundation says: “CBTi focuses on exploring the connection between the way we think, the things we do, and how we sleep. During treatment, a trained CBTi provider helps to identify thoughts, feelings, and behaviors that are contributing to the symptoms of insomnia.”

A woman struggling to sleep
Insomnia affects so many people around the world.

The researchers also say that, in Australia, most patients with insomnia managed in general practices are prescribed potentially addictive sedative-hypnotic medicines (benzodiazepines), and never access the CBTi that would treat their underlying condition. 

“We are aiming to provide GPs with more information, accessible guidelines and tools, as well as referral and treatment options to manage insomnia with CBTi,” says lead researcher Dr Alex Sweetman. “To get the ball rolling, our step-by-step model for GPs will identify, assess and treat insomnia with a Brief Behavioural Treatment for Insomnia program (BBTi).”

BBTi leads to long-term improvement of insomnia, mental health, and overall quality of life, and can help patients reduce their use of sedative-hypnotic medicines. As stated in The National Center for Biotechnology, BBTi is a “four-session manualised treatment paradigm administrable in medical settings by non-psychologist health professionals.”

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Studies into the effectiveness of CBTi are still ongoing, but this research suggests that it’s a course worth investigating. But the best place to start in addressing insomnia is booking an appointment with your GP to discuss symptoms, circumstances and treatments. 

Stephanie Romiszewski, a leading sleep physiologist, insomnia and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Insomnia (CBTi) expert at the Sleepyhead Clinic in Exeter, also recently shared her tips on how to beat insomnia:

  • Stick to a routine (getting out of bed at a set time helps build good sleeping habits).
  • Rethink weekend lie-ins (it’s important to try and wake up at the same time every day).
  • Stick to your usual daytime habits (try not to let insomnia affect your daily routine).
  • Build your sleep drive (build a strong sleep drive by only going to bed when you feel really tired).
  • Don’t rely on quick fixes (you need to unbuild bad habits and routines over time).
  • Focus on light (use natural light to help wake up and get to sleep).

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Hollie Richardson

Hollie is a digital writer at Stylist.co.uk, mainly covering the daily news on women’s issues, politics, celebrities and entertainment. She also keeps an ear out for the best podcast episodes to share with readers. Oh, and don’t even get her started on Outlander…