Research has suggested cognitive behavioural therapy, or CBT, can be as effective as drugs in treating chronic sleep problems. In fact, CBT has been shown to improve not only insomnia but also overall well- being and some symptoms of depression, Live science reported.
A recent study has also suggested that taking sleeping pills to treat insomnia may shorten people's lives. "There are major benefits for CBT over medication," said Dr. David Plante, a sleep specialist at the University of Wisconsin.
"You have long-term benefits, even after the treatment is done, which isn't usually the case for sleeping pills," he stated. CBT can treat insomnia without the use of sleeping pills. With the help of a sleep specialist, a person with insomnia learns to develop good sleeping habits and is taught skills to cope with sleep anxiety.
Insomnia can last several weeks, and it can be a sign of other health problems, including sleep apnea, restless leg syndrome, substance abuse or mental disorders. "Chronic insomnia is a public health issue. With any patient, we try to weigh the benefits and risks of appropriate treatment," Plante said.
Although some studies suggest the use of sleeping pills can be dangerous, experts still see them as beneficial for the short term. "It's worthwhile to use sleep medications if someone is going through acute stress, or grief, for probably a month. But after that, they should be tapered off," said James Findley, a behavioural sleep specialist at the University of Pennsylvania.
Sleeping pills tend to work quickly in relieving symptoms, but they carry the risk of becoming addictive, Findley said, and they don't help treat the underlying causes of sleep problems. "Some people have tried multiple medications, but they become less effective over time," he added. While CBT is widely viewed as effective for insomnia, it isn't always available for everyone.
Often, people who live in remote areas don't have access to specialists trained in CBT, or they can't find a specialist within their health care provider network. Furthermore, Plante said, "sometimes patients may not want to do psychotherapy. They don't want to invest the time." Studies have shown that on average, it takes about eight weeks of CBT before sleep improves, according to Findley.
But unlike sleeping pills, results tend to last, and the treatment helps with the problems connected with insomnia, such as depression and anxiety. In a study by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, CBT was effective in treating up to 80 percent of people. Researchers also found that study participants maintained their sleep improvement for at least six months. "We're always trying to minimize medication use and find other ways to treat insomnia," Plante said.