Guest Post: Can't Sleep? 5 Helpful CBT-i Tips for Better Sleep
Updated: May 27
After a long day, there’s nothing quite like coming home, putting on comfy pajamas, and snuggling into bed. After all, bed is where you relax, unwind, and rejuvenate before another day.
But what about those times when you can’t get to sleep? You know—when you can’t drift off, your mind starts racing, and all of a sudden it’s 4 a.m.? On those nights, bedtime is anything but restful.
If you struggle regularly to get good sleep, you might benefit from cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia (CBT-i). It’s an evidence-based therapy proven 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. Read on for tips from CBT-i on setting yourself up for better sleep!
1) Set the stage for sleep with progressive relaxation techniques
If you’re able to, set aside 25 minutes to practice your relaxation techniques, which ease your body into sleep mode. These can include meditation, mindfulness, grounding, and other relaxing activities. To get you started, here are two simple, do-anywhere breathwork exercises:
Square breathing. Begin by slowly exhaling all of your air out. Then, gently inhale through your nose to a slow count of four. Hold at the top of the breath for a count of four. Then, gently exhale through your mouth for a count of four. At the bottom of the breath, pause and hold for a count of four. Repeat as necessary until you fall asleep.
Alternate nostril breathing. Take the ring finger on your right hand, press down on the left side of your nostrils, and breathe in with your right nostril. Then, take your thumb, close off your right nostril, and exhale from the left nostril.
The beauty of breathwork is you can do it anywhere—whether it’s part of your evening routine or on an as-needed basis to settle racing, overwhelming thoughts.
2) Assess your sleep hygiene
Oftentimes the habits you’ve created during the day can alter the way you sleep through the night; this is a factor often referred to in CBT-i known as sleep hygiene.
Reducing the amount of caffeine you’re consuming after a certain time of day can help; the cutoff point for well-caffeinated beverages for most people is six hours before bedtime. So if you’re going to bed at 10, take the last sip of your latte no later than 4 p.m.!
3) Set a sleep schedule—wake up at the same time every day
Getting into a steady routine of waking up at the same time every morning is an excellent way to reset your internal clock and help your body fall into a deeper sleep each night. Though you may be sleepy the first few mornings, resist the urge to hit “snooze” as your sleep cycle gets corrected.
4) Leave electronics in the other room
Bright lights from screens can interrupt your body’s natural inclination to sleep and can disrupt and cause you problems. Make it a rule to leave all your electronics in another room before you begin your nighttime routine.
By not using electronics in bed, you’re helping your body ease into a more restful and peaceful night’s sleep.
5) Seek consultation from a therapist for insomnia
Still not sure how to get better sleep? Working with a therapist can help you identify causes of your insomnia and use those details to develop a customized treatment program. Together, you’ll work through your insomnia in a few weeks (or, in some cases, as little as a few days).
When seeking a therapist for insomnia, look for someone with training in CBT-i. They should conduct thorough assessments to ensure medical conditions are ruled out, typically in partnership with your primary care doctor. Therapists should also provide homework to monitor ongoing progress outside of sessions.
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 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.)
Sleep is crucial to your physical and mental health—and if you’re having trouble falling asleep or staying asleep, consider implementing a few of these tips to put you on track to a better 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!