Sleeping pills may not be the only option for the 50million to 70 million Americans suffering from chronic insomnia. A new review of research suggests that talking to a therapist should be the first line of treatment.
Cognitive behavioral therapy is effective for improving sleep among individuals suffering from chronic insomnia, according to an analysis of 20 previous studies published online this week in the journal Annals of Internal Medicine. CBT is a form of psychotherapy that targets chronic stress and anxiety -- often at the root of sleeping problems -- by helping patients to identify dysfunctional thought patterns and behaviors.
"People with chronic insomnia worry about the lack of sleep and the impact of insomnia on daytime functioning," Dr. Charles Morin, a Canadian sleep researcher, told WebMD. "That becomes a vicious cycle. The more you worry about sleep, the longer you stay awake. CBT is directly aimed at short-circuiting this cycle."
Roughly 10 percent of adults suffer from chronic insomnia, which is defined as insomnia occurring at least three nights a week for a month or longer.
The researchers analyzed statistics drawn from more than 1,162 sleep deprived participants. They found CBT improved sleep efficiency by nearly 10 percent. It also helped patients fall asleep 19 minutes earlier and sleep for an average of 7.6 minutes longer. Patients were also able to fall asleep more quickly after waking up during the night.
"This supports recommendations that CBT [for insomnia] should be used as the initial intervention for chronic insomnia when possible," the study's lead author, Dr. James Trauer of the Melbourne Sleep Disorders Centre, wrote.
"One major advantage is that [cognitive therapy] involves teaching skills to patients that they can then maintain lifelong and use whenever symptoms recur," he added.
Another recent study found a single one-hour CBT session helped 60 percent of people with short-term insomnia to sleep better.
Incorporating CBT as a treatment isn't a quick fix, Morin warns. It "inevitably requires more time and effort for both the clinician and the patient," he wrote in an editorial published in the Annals of Internal Medicine in response to the findings.
Using CBT instead of medication to treat insomnia has also been found to reduce health care costs, according to a 2014 Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine study.