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Behavioral Treatment for Insomnia

service members sleeping

Army photo by Sgt. Christopher Harper

Insomnia is a sleep disorder that can make it hard to fall asleep or stay asleep. Complaints about trouble sleeping—often diagnosed as insomnia—are some of the most frequent reasons for psychological health referrals among active duty service members. In fact, studies have shown about double the rate of insomnia among those who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan when compared to civilians.

Fortunately, there are ways to treat insomnia including the use of non-drug treatment options like cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia (CBT-I). CBT-I effectively treats insomnia by changing the behaviors, thoughts and emotions that may impact your sleep.

Understanding Insomnia

If you’re having insomnia, it’s important to talk to your provider. It’s more than just trouble sleeping. Insomnia can affect mission readiness and other areas of your life both at work and at home. Your provider can help you understand your insomnia. It can be caused by many things like:

  • Unhealthy sleep habits, like inconsistent bedtimes or watching television in bed
  • Other sleep disorders, like sleep apnea or restless leg syndrome
  • Medical conditions, like allergies, chronic pain and stomach concerns
  • Medications, like high blood pressure prescriptions and some over-the-counter drugs (Don’t skip doses or stop taking medication without talking to your health care provider first.)
  • Psychological health concerns, like posttraumatic stress disorder, depression or anxiety
  • Substance use, like alcohol, nicotine, caffeine or drug consumption
  • Stressors, like difficulties at work or at home

Understanding CBT-I Treatment

If you and your psychological health provider decide to use CBT-I to treat your insomnia, your treatment sessions will focus on changing your thoughts and behaviors around sleep. Treatment can help in as few as three sessions or you may need more. The benefits can last long after treatment has ended. About two out of three veterans who complete CBT-I treatment show significant improvement. Treatment usually includes:

  • Identifying the thoughts, behaviors and situations that make it harder for you to get a restful night’s sleep
  • Understanding ways to improve your sleep patterns
  • Learning skills to improve your sleep and reduce sleep problems like recurrent insomnia

Your provider may also recommend activities you can do outside of your sessions. For example:

  • Keep a sleep journal. This tracks how and when you get to bed, and how many hours of sleep you get each day
  • Remove all distractions from your bedroom. This could include turning off your smart phone and television
  • Try relaxation techniques. These can include breathing exercises, mindfulness and meditation

To learn more about how to maximize your sleep, check out the Real Warrior Campaign’s “Sleep Matters” infographic.

Reaching out is a sign of strength. If you or a loved one needs additional support, contact the Psychological Health Resource Center 24/7 to confidentially speak with trained health resource consultants, call 866-966-1020 or use the Real Warriors Live Chat. You can also visit our “Seek Help, Find Care” page to see a list of key psychological health resources.

Additional Resources

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