By Kevin Loria
Science has found the best strategy for improving your sleep-Many of the more than 30% of Americans and people around the world who suffer from insomniawould do almost anything to sleep better.
That’s why there’s a huge market for sleeping pills like Ambien and Lunesta, along with a whole wall at your local pharmacy of “natural supplements” like melatonin, valerian root, kava, and more.
Sleeping better is absolutely worth it: you’ll be happier, more alert, a safer driver, less likely to suffer from physical ailments as well as anxiety and depression, and much more.
But even though taking a pill might seem like a simple solution — and they’re backed up with lots of ads to make you reach for them first — there are ways to deal with insomnia that are clinically proven to work better for most people.
The most effective overall strategy for dealing with insomnia is cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), an approach that analyzes the thoughts and behaviors that make it hard to sleep and then works on improving them.
How it works
A typical CBT program for insomnia will first analyze a patient’s own insomnia. Then it might incorporate some sleep hygiene habits (don’t read in bed, make sure your room is dark and cool) and help patients set a sleep schedule. A program will also educate an insomniac on relaxation techniques and help people learn new attitudes towards bedtime, to eliminate insomnia-causing anxiety — changing those negative thoughts is key.
In a post on the New York Times’s Upshot blog, Austin Frakt analyzes the various studiescomparing CBT to a wide variety of drugs. The vast majority of medical evidence says that for most people, CBT works better and is preferable to drugs. Plus, it doesn’t come with dangerous side effects, including the risk of overdose and death.
Therapy doesn’t necessarily entail expensive doctor’s visits, either. Frakt’s doctor pointed him to an online CBT treatment program for insomnia. Online programs that change thought patterns and behaviors can work for insomnia, just as they can for depression and anxiety.
Many of the strategies employed in CBT for insomnia are a part of other techniques for falling asleep faster, like learning to comfortably relax in bed without trying to fall asleep, eliminating the anxiety that causes insomnia.
“Like a patch on faulty software, C.B.T. reorients one’s thinking and behavior so that sleep is first thought to be, and then soon after actually is, a more positive experience,” writes Frakt. “Drugs, on the other hand, just treat insomniacs’ symptoms without addressing the underlying cause, which is why the relief they provide may be less durable.”