Forget counting sheep and drinking warm milk, an effective way to tackle chronic insomnia is cognitive behavioural therapy, researchers have confirmed.
The authors of a new study say that although the therapy is effective, it is not being used widely enough, with doctors having limited knowledge about it and patients lacking access.
“There is a very effective treatment that doesn’t involve medication that should be available through your primary care service. If it’s not, it should be,” said Dr Judith Davidson, co-author of a new study on CBT for insomnia from Queen’s University in Ontario, Canada.
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Chronic insomnia, in which individuals have difficulties dropping off or staying asleep at least three nights a week for three months or more, is thought to affect about 10-15% of adults. The condition is linked to health problems including depression, as well as difficulties in functioning and sometimes resulting in accidents.
Sleeping pills are not recommended for long-term use and can have side-effects, as well as posing a risk of addiction. Instead, the main treatment for chronic insomnia is CBT – a programme of changes to the way an individual approaches and thinks about sleep. These include staying away from the bed when awake, challenging attitudes about sleep loss and restricting the number of hours spent in bed.
Writing in the British Journal of General Practice, Davidson and colleagues report how they examined the results from 13 previously conducted studies on the provision of CBT for insomnia through primary care. In some studies, participants were also taking medication to help them sleep.
The results showed CBT for insomnia was effective and led to improvements in sleep that lasted during a follow-up many months later.