As our third installment for articles regarding sleep and insomnia, we are going to review one of the most evidence-based approaches to treating insomnia through a therapy and behavioral intervention. This program is called Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Insomnia, or CBT-I. This program has different parts including the topics of sleep hygiene, stimulus control, passive wakefulness and sleep logs. If you or a family member has struggled with insomnia and are seeking an alternative to meds (and a more lasting approach) to healing insomnia, CBT-I may be a perfect fit for you.
It is important to acknowledge that CBT interventions are effective for a multitude of conditions, including addiction to substances, major depression or different anxiety disorders. CBT tends to emphasize the triangle of thoughts, emotions, and behaviors. We help people build insight into their anxiety or moods through this approach, just as we help people understand dysfunctional patterns with current sleep behaviors.
At CeDAR, we make a strong effort in promoting these interventions instead of being completely reliant on medication approaches. Those looking to recover from addiction need to be mindful of how substances had been their most-used coping skill over the years, hence they are likely prone to lean too heavily on pills. This is where CBT-I comes in.
Our bedtime routine with all of its variables is called sleep hygiene. Just as with everyday hygiene, our goal with sleep hygiene is to be a good caretaker of ourselves. Some people practice effective and healthy sleep practices, while others do not. What things should you look for in reviewing your own sleep hygiene? These examples are practices to help yourself get in a good position to fall asleep:
As CBT-I is all about an overall training program for your brain, it makes sense that it also includes daytime patterns. To achieve quality sleep, a person essentially needs to create a daytime of wakefulness in contrast to a nighttime of sleepiness. This also means that the person needs to gradually be winding down over the later parts of the day, so as not to build further neuro-stimulation and difficulty falling asleep. Examples for this topic include:
As our goal with CBT-I is to help improve your quality of sleep, part of this involves conditioning yourself to be asleep during times you are in bed. This is in contrast to people who may be in bed for a few more hours than they are actually asleep, either deliberately or amidst their tossing and turning. Sleep logs shed some light on your patterns by tracking the total number of hours you are lying in bed and comparing this to your estimated hours of physically being asleep. This creates your “sleep ratio.” Healthy sleepers will often have a sleep ratio of around 90%.
To determine your sleep ratio, it should be an average over at least the past week. Write down on a chart the time you fall asleep and the time you wake up. Try and make your wake-up time fixed and consistent each day with your alarm. This consistency helps you with overall sleep rhythm.
Sleep Ratio = Hours Sleeping / Hours Lying in Bed
For instance, if you lie down one night at 10:00 pm, fall asleep at 11:00 pm, and wake up at 6:00 am, you were physically asleep for 7 hours and in bed for 8 hours. Your sleep ratio would be 7/8. If you woke up for an hour stretch of time in the middle of the night, your sleep ratio would then be 6/8. Keep in mind that your sleep log is an estimate. If we revisit themes of sleep hygiene, it is important to avoid keeping a visible clock next to your bed as this only leads to obsessing. Simply give it your best guess.
Once you have an average ratio, you would adjust your sleep schedule so as to reach a target ratio of around 90%. This means that if you wake up at 6:00 am, and typically sleep for 7 hours, your target bedtime should actually be close to 11:00 rather than 10:00. Once again, the goal with this entire program is to effectively train yourself to sleep well and consistently.
It might sound strange to lie down later in the evening if you struggle with insomnia, but this is exactly what you may need to do. The restless time in bed doesn’t actually help you and may contribute to more worrying and nights of poor sleep.
Anxiety and worry can be very destructive to a good night’s sleep. The skill of passive wakefulness helps decrease some of these worries, emphasizing mindfulness approaches. This helps a person pay attention to the patterns within their body, specifically sleepiness and the window in which they could attempt to fall asleep. This involves taking a trusting approach and not really ‘trying’ to fall asleep, but rather understanding the natural state of sleep and how your body will fall asleep on its own.
When someone is using passive wakefulness, they would approach sleep this way and also make efforts to let go of frustration around insomnia. This can include using other trained mindfulness exercises covered in other articles. This also involves avoiding the tossing and turning of being wide awake in bed. Instead, the person would actually get up and read or do something peaceful if they experience lying in bed for around 30 minutes or longer. The ruminations about sleep tend to hurt rather than help, hence passive wakefulness seeks to move away from such thought patterns.
While this program was developed to help those with insomnia, it offers sensible and practical advice for anyone in the areas of good sleep behaviors and choices. Many people struggle with different degrees of insomnia, including some people with only mild disruptions in sleep. Paying attention to your sleep patterns can be helpful if you have an addictive disorder, a mental health condition or no significant daily struggle. Better sleep quality translates to better life performance for all people.
If you are interested in learning more about CBT-I, there are many available online resources and books about the curriculum. We offer some of the introduction to these approaches through our CeDAR lecture series. Feel free to contact us or our family program if you’d like to learn more.