Two new studies suggest that cognitive behavioral therapy to change people’s attitudes and actions about sleep and using meditation to encourage relaxation can help insomniacs get a better night’s sleep without pills.
Researchers say that contrary to popular belief, insomnia is not a nighttime-only affliction but a 24-hour problem of hyperarousal. By teaching people how to relax and clear their minds during the day, they sleep better at night.
"Results of the study show that teaching deep relaxation techniques during the daytime can help improve sleep at night," says researcher Ramadevi Gourineni, MD, director of the insomnia program at Northwestern Memorial Hospital, in a news release.
Meditation to Treat Insomnia
Gourineni’s study examined the effectiveness of practicing meditation as an insomnia treatment in 11 people with insomnia.
The participants were divided into two groups. One group was trained in kriya yoga, in which meditation is used to focus internalized attention, and the other received general health education.
Two months later, the results showed that the meditation group experienced improvements in sleep quality and quantity, according to their sleep diaries. They also took less time to fall asleep, woke fewer times, and had fewer symptoms of depression.
Although the effects and study size were small, researchers say the findings suggest that meditation may be an effective alternative insomnia treatment.
Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy Tames Insomnia
The second, larger study looked at the effects of a cognitive behavioral therapy-insomnia (CBT-I) program designed to treat insomnia in 115 people with insomnia. The program included evaluating the person’s habits, attitudes, and knowledge about sleep.
During the treatment sessions, participants learned about sleep scheduling, creating the proper environment for sleep, reducing stimuli that may interfere with sleep, relaxation training, and mindfulness training.
"CBT-I teaches strategies to 'reset' the bodily systems that regulate sleep," researcher Ryan Wetzler, PsyD, of Sleep Medicine Specialists in Louisville, Ky., says in a news release. "Since these systems also play a role in regulation of mood, pain, and other bodily processes, skills developed through CBT-I may also have a positive impact on mood, anxiety, pain, and other associated medical or psychiatric conditions."
The results showed that 50%-60% of those whose main insomnia symptom was trouble falling asleep, staying asleep, or both experienced improvement. Those who completed five or more cognitive behavioral therapy sessions also had improvement in other sleep quality measurements and needed less medication for their insomnia.