Can’t sleep? The new recommendations released by the American College of Physicians suggest people with chronic insomnia try psychotherapy, specifically cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), before turning to sleeping pills. CBT involves a combination of talk therapy, behavioral interventions, and education and can help patients reset their normal sleeping patterns. Only when this treatment isn’t effective, patients and their doctors should determine if drug therapy should be added.
“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 over-tendency to prescribe sleep medications, and clearly CBT can be a very nice tool in the toolkit.”
Research estimates that nearly 10% of Americans experience chronic insomnia. Sufferers have difficulty falling or staying asleep and can experience symptoms like fatigue, lack of concentration, and mood disturbance.
Before recommending psychotherapy to patients, the College asks doctors exclude other medical conditions that can disturb sleep, such as restless legs syndrome, obstructive sleep apnea, and prostate gland enlargement. Doctors should also advise patients on behavioral factors that contribute to sleep problems, such as drinking alcohol.
Stuart Macfarlane, a notable therapist, believes psychotherapy benefits chronic sleep sufferers in a number of ways. For many people, stress and anxiety are the underlying cause of their sleep problems. With psychotherapy, patients can get to the root of the problem and tackle it head on. Additionally, CBT provides patients with the skills and knowledge they need to better manage their sleep problems and insomnia symptoms. And, unlike sleeping pills, psychotherapy has positive long-term effects and doesn’t have the potential side-effects associated with long-term use of medications.
If you suffer from insomnia, talk to your doctor about how psychotherapy can benefit you.