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Trouble Sleeping? Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Could Soon Replace Dangerous Sleeping Pills


therapy for sleep

We laud the conclusions of a report that recommends using a unique form of psychotherapy known as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy as the first line of treatment for insomnia, instead of immediately prescribing medications with troublesome side effects. New guidelines by the American College of Physicians (ACP) say specialized counseling can and does work. This is a big departure from the standard medical practice of remediating the condition.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

The kind of counseling advocated is cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), a combination of behavioral interventions, talk therapy and education. It includes measures like relaxation training, biofeedback and the temporary use of a technique called sleep restriction. CBT also involves instruction in avoiding behaviors that hinder rest, such as consuming caffeinated beverages and taking naps, along with employing practices that create a sleep-conducive environment. Unlike merely providing symptomatic relief from insomnia, the therapy addresses the underlying causes.

In the report published in Annals of Internal Medicine, the authors noted that a large body of evidence supports CBT’s efficacy. A 2014 study found a single hour of talk therapy improved the sleep of 73 percent of the participants. Another study published in the same year showed equally encouraging results, with 86 percent of the patients experiencing a lessening of insomnia. After reviewing the research on the subject, the ACP advocated considering sleeping pills only if CBT isn’t effective.

“We know chronic insomnia is a real problem that patients present within our [doctors’] offices,” said Dr. Wayne Riley, president of the American College of Physicians (ACP). “We want to get away from the overtendency to prescribe sleep medications, and clearly CBT can be a very nice tool in the toolkit.”

Before advising CBT, Riley said doctors should evaluate patients to see if they have any medical condition that could be causing insomnia such as restless leg syndrome or obstructive sleep apnea. He also urged them to assess patients’ lifestyle to see if they are engaging in behaviors that could be playing a role in poor sleep.

Health Effects of Insomnia

Insomnia is a common problem, as the ACP says up to 10 percent of adults have trouble falling or staying asleep. The disorder has an adverse effect on mood and thought processes, leading to depression, impaired judgement and forgetfulness. It also accelerates aging, produces fatigue and reduces work productivity. In addition, poor sleep increases the risk of obesity, heart disease, stroke and diabetes as well as the likelihood of death. Clearly, insomnia has serious consequences.

FDA Has Approved Sleeping Pills for Only Short-Term Use

The FDA has approved older sleep drugs like Valium and newer ones like Ambien and Lunesta for four to five weeks. Scientists at the oversight agency say if drug treatment doesn’t significantly help the insomnia of patients, they should be reevaluated. Sleep medication can produce allergies and next-day drowsiness, a problem that makes driving hazardous. Aside from the side effects issue, little evidence exists that shows these drugs actually work, according to the ADP report.


Mary West is a natural health enthusiast, as she believes this area can profoundly enhance wellness. She is the creator of a natural healing website where she focuses on solutions to health problems that work without side effects. You can visit her site and learn more at Ms. West is also the author of Fight Cancer Through Powerful Natural Strategies.

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