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Zoomer | When Sleep Eludes You, It May Be Time to Try Cognitive Behavioural Therapy

Originally published in Everything Zoomer on December 4, 2019 by Tara Losinski 

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Do you get enough sleep? Do you sleep well?

These are important questions when you consider that insufficient sleep — defined as short duration and/or poor quality — is associated with health outcomes including obesity, Type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, depression, irritability, and a reduction in general well-being. According to a 2017 report from Statistics Canada, for many of us the answers are no and no. A third of Canadians reported getting less than the recommended minimum of seven hours of sleep per night.

And when the statisticians looked deeper into the data for a followup report last year, they found that as many as 15 per cent of us meet the criteria for insomnia. That is, we’re dissatisfied with our sleep and feel like it’s impacting our daytime functioning. And although there’s an ever-growing assortment of products promising to improve sleep — everything from aromatherapy to weighted blankets — for insomniacs, it may be time to consider therapy.

“This is the thing with insomnia, it often doesn’t just resolve on its own and actually requires treatment,” says Katherine Rasmussen, director of behavioural sleep medicine at the Centre for Sleep & Human Performance in Calgary. Cognitive behavioural therapy for insomnia (CBT-I) has been shown to work so well that it’s the recommended first-line treatment in Canada. “It’s about 70 to 80 per cent effective,” Rasmussen says. “And we also use it to help people taper off their sleep medication.”

As she explains, CBT-I helps patients change maladaptive behaviours, one of which is spending too much time in bed. “They become desperate for more sleep and one of the strategies they use is going to bed earlier and staying in bed later. But this actually worsens the sleep, it fragments it even further because they don’t have enough sleep pressure.”

CBT-I can take as little as just over a month and the effects can be long-lasting says Toronto-based psychologist Dr. Khush Amaria. Amaria is an expert in cognitive behavioural therapy and the senior clinical director for Beacon, a clinician-guided digital therapy service that recently added CBT-I to its program.

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