Using CBT to treat insomnia caused by anxiety

Q:  My insomnia stems from anxiety.  As soon as I lay down thoughts and feelings flood my mind that it seems I can’t stop.  I go over and over things I think I should have handled better, and although I try relaxing, nothing seems to help.  It’s hard for me to let go and I get frustrated.  I recently learned about CBT for insomnia and am wondering if it might work for me.  Is CBT expensive and time consuming?

A:  CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy) specifically designed for insomnia is safe and effective.  It is the standard of practice used by sleep professionals, and helps most everyone who tries it.  Many who do become normal sleepers again.

CBT is actually collection of common sense methods to comprehensively address the nonmedical roots of primary insomnia, which refers to sleeping problems without an identifiable medical basis.  Insomnia caused by a medical or psychiatric issue is commonly called secondary insomnia.

Anxiety is often one of the biggest culprits in primary insomnia.  Anxiety is often caused by recurring patterns of negative thoughts, like the ones you are experiencing.  These recurring thought patterns are often inextricably linked to intensely negative emotions, like shame, guilt, fear, hatred, and envy.  They are often ingrained and automatic, and may occur near or just beneath our level of conscious awareness.

By identifying and understanding how these negative thoughts are typically unrealistic, distorted, and overly pessimistic, you are then in a much better position to stop them.  You can then intentionally choose to replace them with more positive, accurate, and supportive thoughts that you control.  CBT excels at this process.

CBT programs include potent methods to address the recurring negative thought patterns that largely underlie anxiety.  So rather than allowing yourself to be controlled by negative thoughts, these methods help you control them.  CBT helps put you back in charge of yourself.

In addition, CBT for insomnia also includes methods to powerfully increase your sleep drive and create optimal sleeping conditions for yourself.  Generally, the minimum time to learn and deploy CBT methods is on the order of several weeks, although sleep often continues to improve long after the methods are first learned.

Before starting CBT, it’s important to either treat or rule out any possible medical basis for your insomnia.  We recommend discussing this with your doctor or other health care professional.  The vast majority of insomnia is primary, however, and is typically caused by some nonmedical combination of bad sleep habits and excessive worry about sleep.  Stress and anxiety also play significant roles.

You can learn CBT methods from a number of sources.  Sleep doctors, social workers, psychologists, counselors, and other health care professionals often employ CBT for sleep.

If you are the self-help type, there are a number of free or inexpensive sources of CBT information, both in the form of books you can buy as well as online sources.  If you choose the self-help route, we suggest use of a comprehensive CBT-based sleep training program, one that largely replicates the methodology used in sleep clinics.

Using CBT enables you to address all the nonmedical root sources of insomnia at one time in one place.  The cognitive and behavioral methods combine to support and reinforce each other, and this is typically the fastest and most effective way to start sleeping better.

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6 Comments on “Using CBT to treat insomnia caused by anxiety”


  1. […] ways to manage anxiety that do not involve drugs.  Some of the best are contained in CBT — cognitive behavioral therapy.  With CBT, you learn to recognize these recurring negative thought patterns that are very likely […]


  2. […] sleep naturally, check out CBT sleep training on the internet. All of these ideas are part of cognitive behavioral therapy applied to insomnia, and most people are helped by […]


  3. […] best overall solution to primary insomnia is contained in CBT – cognitive behavioral therapy – specifically designed for insomnia . CBT is the standard of care recommended by the AASM, […]


  4. […] not these thoughts are overblown or something important to address.  This analysis is just one of many helpful tools you can use to evaluate recurring negative thoughts; there are many good ways to to do […]


  5. […] all of the usual problems that prevent or interfere with good sleep, including anxiety, which is a potent fuel that perpetuates […]


  6. […] timing techniques, sleep hygiene, stress management, cognitive restructuring, and management of anxiety.  The methods synergistically combine to reinforce one another very effectively, which is why CBT […]


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