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The Benefits and Methods of CBT-I for Better Sleep

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Studies show that as much as 60% of the world’s population suffers from some form of insomnia. Insomnia can present itself in many ways, from trouble falling asleep to waking frequently. Symptoms that last for more than three months qualify as chronic insomnia, whereas short bouts of sleep disturbances are referred to as acute insomnia.

Whichever describes your condition, there is help available, including natural supplements, prescription medication, and lifestyle changes. A healthy mix of methods can help many people with insomnia lead fulfilling lives that include quality sleep.

Here we’ll take a closer look at a popular form of insomnia treatment called cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia or CBT-I. With a better understanding of how this particular therapy works, you can finally achieve the restful night’s sleep you need and deserve.

What is CBT-I?

CBT, also known as cognitive behavioral therapy, is a common form of therapy used to treat behavioral conditions and addictions. CBT is based on the premise that your feelings, thoughts, actions, and physical sensations are all connected. By facing and replacing these negative thoughts, patients can take a more positive approach to overcome whatever plagues them – in this case, insomnia.

CBT-I is specifically used to treat insomnia symptoms and utilizes various techniques. CBT-I works to identify the connection between the way you think, the things you do, and how these impact your sleep. Thoughts and feelings are examined for accuracy, and behaviors are evaluated to see if they promote or hinder sleep.

CBT-I is a long-term treatment and takes time to work. It’s also a multicomponent treatment since it’s composed of several different steps and methods. These include:

  • Behavioral intervention: Stimulus control, sleep restriction, and relaxation training
  • Cognitive intervention: Cognitive restructuring to help notice and change negative thinking
  • Psychoeducational intervention: Learning new information about the connection between thoughts, feelings, behavior, and sleep

It’s this multifaceted approach to healing that makes CBT-I such an effective form of treatment for insomnia. Let’s dive deeper into exactly how these methods work.

Types of CBT-I for Sleep

There’s no one-size-fits-all to overcoming sleep disturbances. CBT-I uses a variety of methods and techniques to both identify and treat insomnia symptoms.

Sleep Restriction

This advice may seem counterintuitive, but sleep restriction is about reducing the amount of time you lay awake in bed. If you struggle to fall asleep, you’ve probably lain in bed staring at the ceiling for longer than you care to admit. Unfortunately, this can go on for hours, and, in the meantime, you’re actually doing more harm than good.

Sleep restriction limits how much time you spend in bed awake in order to establish a more consistent sleep schedule. By increasing your drive and desire to sleep, you find yourself less tired during the day and able to fall asleep faster at night.

Keeping a sleep diary can help facilitate this technique. If you find yourself lying awake in bed for more than 20 minutes, get up and perform a relaxing activity until you feel tired enough to return to the bedroom.

Stimulus Control

After endless nights of lying awake in bed or spending hours tossing and turning, many people come to associate the bed and sleep with frustration. This can create feelings of anxiety and stress before bedtime. Unfortunately, these are two of the main causes of insomnia. The more anxious you become over lack of sleep, the more sleep disturbances you’ll experience, creating a vicious cycle.

Stimulus control focuses on creating a more positive association between your bedroom and sleep. Common bad habits include watching TV in bed, scrolling through social media, eating, or even working on a computer. All of these are unhealthy sleep habits that confuse your mind and body into thinking you should be alert in bed, when in fact, it’s a time for rest.

Stimulus control works to strengthen the connection between your bedroom and sleep, eliminating stimulating activities and negative thoughts in your sleeping space. Like sleep restriction, you should avoid lying in bed awake for longer than 15 – 20 minutes and reserve this space for sleep and sex only. Another technique is to try going to bed and waking at the same time each day. Set an alarm for consistency and avoid taking naps during the day.

Relaxation Techniques

There are several relaxation techniques that therapists use as part of CBT-I treatment. These methods help reduce anxiety, tension, and racing thoughts that keep you awake at night or cause you to wake frequently. By increasing your body’s natural relaxation response, you can improve sleep quality and your overall well-being.

Breathing Exercises

Deep cleansing breaths are often associated with yoga, meditation, and relaxation. By taking slow, deep breaths, you can work to quiet your mind and release pent-up tension in your body and muscles. Focused breathing also slows your heart rate and is a popular CBT method for reducing depression, anxiety, and even anger.


Meditation puts these breathing techniques into practice. Meditation helps you focus your attention while controlling your thoughts, breathing, and movements. Yoga and tai chi are two common forms of meditation that also offer other health benefits, including increased relaxation and reduced stress.


PMR, or progressive muscle relaxation, is a popular technique for muscle control and tension release. The process involves tensing and then releasing and relaxing specific muscle groups. Some forms of PMR are used alongside guided imagery and the above-mentioned breathing exercises.


The more you know about insomnia, the better equipped you’ll be to overcome symptoms. It’s always recommended you educate yourself about any physical or behavioral issue you face. Dealing with insomnia is no different. Psychoeducation focuses on educating people with insomnia on the importance of good sleep hygiene. This involves increasing positive behaviors and reducing those that inhibit sleep.

There are several lifestyle changes that can improve sleep hygiene. These include exercising during the day, eating a balanced diet, and reducing unhealthy habits like alcohol and nicotine use. Creating a sleep oasis in your bedroom is also beneficial. Invest in dim lighting, a sound machine, and quality bedding.

CBT-I Can Improve Your Sleep and Quality of Life

Are you one of the 70 million people that struggle with insomnia? Have you tried everything but still can’t fall and stay asleep? CBT-I might help. This therapy method is designed specifically for those with chronic insomnia. The best part is, CBT-I lets you create a specialized treatment plan for your unique condition. With a mix of stimulus control, relaxation techniques, and lifestyle changes, you can adopt healthier habits and finally achieve the quality night’s sleep you need.

If you or someone you know experiences mental health issues, it is important to seek help from a qualified professional. Our Resource Specialist can help you find expert mental health resources to recover in your community. Contact us now for more information on this free service to our users.

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About the Author: Katherine Hall is a Sleep Psychologist at Somnus Therapy who specializes in treating insomnia. She holds degrees with specializations in Acceptance and Commitment Therapy and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Insomnia.

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The opinions and views expressed in any guest blog post do not necessarily reflect those of www.rtor.org or its sponsor, Laurel House, Inc. The author and www.rtor.org have no affiliations with any products or services mentioned in the article or linked to therein. Guest Authors may have affiliations to products mentioned or linked to in their author bios.

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