Drifting off to Dreamland: 5 Tips Inspired by CBT-I, the Therapy Type for Better Sleep

Drifting off to Dreamland: 5 Tips Inspired by CBT-I, the Therapy Type for Better Sleep


Tossing and turning all night… checking the clock to see how late it is… fretting about how tired you’ll be tomorrow: insomnia is an incredibly frustrating experience.

This chronic sleep disorder, in which a person has a difficult time falling or staying asleep, is also fairly prevalent, affecting an estimated 30% of adults.

However, with a concentrated focus on healthy sleep practices—and proper treatment—it doesn’t have to be permanent! Enter cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia (CBT-I), a type of talk therapy that’s the top recommended treatment for insomnia by the American College of Physicians.

Below, learn more about CBT-I, as well as ways to incorporate its techniques into your everyday life to promote healthier sleep:

What is CBT-I?

CBT-I is a skills-based therapy that aims to create a conditioned response to help you—both your body and your brain—fall and stay asleep.

In CBT-I, your therapist will work with you to:

  • Screen and analyze your sleep habits
  • Use those findings to develop a treatment plan, tailored to your particular experience of insomnia
  • Help you build specific skills to reduce existing symptoms of insomnia and reduce current anxiety around sleep

CBT-I focuses on managing stress, decreasing interfering thoughts, and getting the brain to quiet down, which leads to embracing sleep without worry.

And, it’s effective: Studies have shown that CBT-I improves sleep and daytime functioning by 70-80%, improves mood, and reduces co-morbid concerns like depression.

5 effective tips for better sleep

Ready to get better sleep? Here are tips from, and inspired by, CBT-I!

1. Avoid screen time while in bed.

The light of the screen tricks your brain into thinking it’s still time to be active – plus, stressors like emails, text messages, or a live newsfeed can make it difficult to quiet your mind.

2. Set a personal sleep and wake time routine.

If possible, go to bed and wake up at the same time, every day (even on the weekends).

Doing so helps to regulate your body’s internal clock. It’s easier for your mind to shut off when your body is on a set structure.

3. Turn your clock away from facing your bed.

Using an alarm clock to set a personal sleep routine (a la #2, above) is great. But avoid being a “clock watcher,” as this can lead to frustration and anxiety about sleep—in turn, interfering with your ability to fall asleep.

If you constantly watch the minutes tick by, you’ll only get more and more stressed about not being asleep yet—so turn it away to reduce that pressure!

4. Take time to intentionally unwind before you go to sleep.

For 30 minutes to a full hour before you go to sleep, take time to intentionally unwind. Shoot for activities that you find enjoyable and calming, like:

  • Reading a book on the couch
  • Doing intentional breathing exercises for relaxation
  • Drinking an herbal tea while listening to meditation or classical music

This lets your body know it’s time to gear down and primes it for better sleep.

5. Make sure your bed is primed for relaxation.

Remember that while a comfy bed isn’t a panacea for sleep disorders, it can be helpful if your sleep disorder is tied to physical discomfort.

If your bed isn’t comfortable, it could be an obstacle to your sleep—so be sure to switch up anything that’s not comfortable, like an old mattress or pillow.

At the end of the day, insomnia isn’t a one-size-fits-all disorder!

The above tips are just starting points; insomnia comes in many different forms. And in some cases, it’s related to emotional health problems. Working with a therapist who specializes in sleep disorders is a great way to address underlying issues and get your sleep cycle restored for the long-term.

You can find a therapist who specializes in sleep issues near you in NYC, Boston, Chicago, and Rhode Island on Zencare.

This is a guest post from Zencare, a website that helps people find their ideal talk therapist in NYC and beyond. Visit Zencare.co to browse their vetted network of top therapists—using criteria like insurance, sliding scale, location, and specialties. You can also directly book a free assessment call from the Zencare site!