05/15/2010 05:12 am ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

Sleep Tips: CBT Good For Sleep and Pain

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) just got another star for treating insomnia, especially for people who suffer from chronic neck or back pain.

The study, published online by the journal Sleep Medicine, indicates that CBT can help patients who already are taking medications for pain and might be reluctant or unable to take additional drugs to treat their sleep problems.

I've long believed in the power of CBT. Exactly what is it? The gist:

  • As its name implies, CBT is one part cognitive and one part behavioral.
  • The cognitive portion of CBT is about recognizing, challenging, and changing the ways of thinking that keep you from falling asleep.
  • If you can't get to sleep easily at night and find yourself tossing and turning while awash in irritating thoughts, chances are you're fueling your own fire with a distorted, stress-inducing behavior. CBT Solution: challenge these thoughts, with the help of a sleep psychologist, as they may be distorted or inaccurate.
  • The behavior portion is about sleep hygiene--the ways in which you prepare yourself for sleep. My Solution: Follow a Power Down Hour and go to bed at the perfect time for your body so you're ready to fall asleep within 20 to 30 minutes.

Studies have shown that cognitive behavior therapy can, in fact, beat sleeping pills. This proves just how powerful thoughts can be, and that getting restful sleep is often more about how you teach your mind to think than using any external trick such as a drug or other sleep aid.

The participants in this latest study, whose pain and moods were tracked for six months alongside sleep, received CBT and showed measurable, positive results. The researchers believe that CBT can be even more effective than other treatments for insomnia and chronic pain.

Sweet Dreams,

Michael J. Breus, PhD

The Sleep Doctor™

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This post about sleep and CBT is also available at Dr. Breus's official blog, The Insomnia Blog.