“Are you having trouble sleeping?” It’s a standard question many of us hear at the doctor’s office — it’s also one that brings up an issue that affects as many as one in three people. In fact, 50 to 70 million U.S. adults experience sleep or wakefulness problems that can infiltrate their lives and interfere with health and productivity.
Insomnia can vary in duration and intensity — either as an acute episode or a chronic issue that develops over time — and involves difficulty falling asleep, wakefulness after sleep onset, and/or trouble maintaining sleep throughout the night. This results in reduced quality, duration, and efficiency of sleep.
It’s easy to overlook insomnia. After someone experiences it for a while, it can feel like the norm — no longer realizing how sleep problems negatively impact his or her life. It can feel frustrating and like nothing will help.
I am a counselor specializing in sleep disorders and have heard many clients say these exact words to me.
To be clear: insomnia is a major issue that affects millions of people and disrupts lives. Poor sleep drives lack of concentration, memory loss, fatigue, irritability, reduced energy level, and diminished motivation. These consequences can make it difficult to get through day-to-day challenges at school, work, and home.
Adding to the negative impact — and what many people with sleep issues are unaware of — is that insomnia can both cause and exacerbate physical and mental health conditions. Insufficient sleep is associated with common chronic illnesses, both contributing to the development of the disease and impeding proper treatment.
This is a serious problem: research has shown that poor sleep increases the risk of developing Type 2 diabetes and found cardiovascular problems like hypertension, stroke, and coronary heart disease to be more common among people with sleep apnea. Insomnia is inherently connected to chronic disease: sleep problems contribute to increased risk for anxiety and depression and, likewise, insomnia can be caused by underlying mental health conditions.
The good news? There’s a way to manage this long-term — without sleeping pills.
I have seen firsthand the transformative power of tailored interventions for sleep problems when they co-occur with chronic disease and mental health conditions like anxiety and depression. Sleep disorder therapy — and specifically, cognitive-behavioral therapy for insomnia (CBT-I) — can help people learn ways to improve sleep and therefore their physical and mental health.
How does sleep therapy work?
If you are experiencing sleep problems, a therapist will guide you through four areas that will help you work towards improved sleep quality.
First, you’ll discuss stimuli that inhibit your sleep and put in place measures for restful sleep:
- Limit caffeine and alcohol intake
- Develop a regular exercise routine
- Ensure the bedroom is quiet, dark, and comfortable, and remove clocks
- Avoid eating or drinking too much close to bedtime
- Avoid activities that increase your mental activity close to bedtime
Next, your therapist will help you to implement restrictions on your time in bed to match the average sleep duration and therefore increase efficient, deep sleep.
Your therapist will then help you learn relaxation techniques — progressive muscle relaxation, imagery training to focus on positive images, and diaphragmatic breathing — that reduce symptoms of anxiety that keep you awake.
Finally, through CBT-I you will learn techniques to overcome negative thoughts and perceptions about sleep, which often contribute to anxiety and impede quality sleep.
If you are dealing with chronic or new sleep problems, know that help is available and sleep disorder therapy can significantly improve your health. CBT-I and other sleep therapy techniques can help you prevent insomnia and related issues from taking over your life.
You’re not in this alone: Quartet works with doctors to connect patients with the right kind of mental health care for issues like sleep problems, anxiety, and depression. Learn how Quartet can help you >>
Nicole Gibson, LPC, NCC utilizes a combination of person-centered, motivational interviewing, cognitive behavioral and dialectical behavioral therapy approaches to treatment. She has six years of experience working with adolescents and adults in inpatient and outpatient counseling settings, with a focus on treating addiction, behavioral disorders, anxiety, depression, stress management, and self-esteem.