1 comment / Posted on by Jason Graham

Can't Sleep? 5 Tips From CBT-i For Better Rest

Sleep is a fickle thing for many. Restful nights that bring eight hours of uninterrupted ZZZs often yield productive days and higher moods; evenings devastatingly devoid of shuteye, on the other hand, typically trigger anxiety and irritability.

If your sleep fluctuates between the two – e.g., restful and exhausting – or you struggle nightly to get any sleep at all, you might benefit from cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia (CBT-i). CBT-i is an evidence-based therapy that’s shown to improve persistently poor sleep problems.

The following five exercises – all designed to help you get to sleep – are adapted from CBT-i. They’re courtesy of Zencare, a website that helps people find their ideal talk therapist.

1) Keep electronics outside your bedroom

Still plugged in when you go to sleep? It might be keeping you up, since the bright lights from screens can interrupt your body’s natural inclination to sleep. Plus, as alerts and notifications roll in, the beeps and vibrations may prompt you to wake up earlier than necessary.

Keeping electronics out of your bed altogether is vital for setting a proper sleep environment, an important component of CBT-i.

Consider leaving your phone in another room at night; and for the most restful sleep, don’t turn on your computer or TV in your bed.

2) Take a deep breath – or 10

If you’re lying in bed and starting to fret about losing sleep, you can learn to calm your racing mind with simple breathwork.


Try this easy, do-anywhere prompt, known as 4-7-8 breathing:

  1. Exhale all breath completely through your mouth (this should make a whoosh sound).
  2. Inhale through your nose for 4 seconds.
  3. Hold your breath for 7 seconds.
  4. Exhale for 8 seconds.
  5. Repeat the cycle three more times.

Other breathing exercises, such as square breathing, may prove calming as well.

3) Steep for better sleep

Try incorporating a small routine into your evening to help your body ease into a relaxing state of mind. One easy routine you can start? Make yourself an herbal tea, sit on the couch or a comfy chair, and read a book for an hour or so as you wind down.

By doing this every night, your body begins to get into a rhythm – and every time you pour a cup of tea or pick up a book after dinner, your body and mind knows it’s time to start thinking about sleep. This is one example of sleep hygiene, which refers to lifestyle habits that impact your sleep.

4) Guided imagery from relaxation training

Sometimes, all we need is a peaceful distraction from the loud noises in our minds. Guided imagery is a strategy used in relaxation training; you might visualize peaceful and pleasant scenes as you fall asleep, or even picture yourself falling asleep and sleeping restfully.

Not sure where to start? Try an app like Stop, Breathe, Think, which offers guided imagery meditations for sleep.

5) Work with a therapist to figure out what, exactly, is going on

Is stress or anxiety keeping you up at night? Maybe you’re worried about a fight you had with your partner, or your children’s grades at school. In cases like this, it may help to work with a therapist to relieve situational insomnia. (If you’re not sure where, or how, to find a great therapist, here are seven steps to get you started.)

If you’re experiencing chronic insomnia – unrelated to a tangible situation – your best bet is likely a therapist trained in cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia, or CBT-i. Working with a CBT-i therapist can help you work through your insomnia in a few weeks -- sometimes even in just a few days!

Bonus: Try 5 Yoga Poses to Calm Your Mind -- and drift off to sleep more easily!

If you’re in New York City, Rhode Island, or Boston, you can find vetted therapists with specific training in the treatment of sleep disorders on Zencare. Note that many therapists who specialize in insomnia treatment have specialized training and education, meaning they’re less likely to be in-network with health insurances. If you have trouble finding a therapist who takes your health insurance, consider applying for out-of-network benefits from your health insurance to offset the cost or explore these lower cost options to afford therapy.

With a bit of help, you can learn to relax your mind, boost your mood, and set yourself up for a good night’s sleep.

This is a guest post from Zencare, a website that helps people find their ideal talk therapist. 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!

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