compass Explore next steps to improve your mental health. Get mental health help

Sleep therapy: Effective treatment options for sleep disorders

Sleep therapy: Effective treatment options for sleep disorders

Though we might not often think about it, sleep is a very important part of functioning. Without sleep, our bodies struggle to think, act, and keep functioning. Over time, a lack of sleep can even cause health problems like heart disease, kidney disease, high blood pressure, stroke, and many other ailments.

If you struggle with sleeping, either due to a disorder or for unknown reasons, consider trying sleep therapy. Sleep therapists can identify what’s keeping you awake, decide on an effective treatment plan, and give you tools and strategies to help yourself sleep.

Understanding Insomnia and Sleep Disorders

Sleep disorders are a group of conditions that disrupt an individual’s sleep patterns and sleep quality. These disorders encompass a range of issues that can affect the ability to fall asleep, stay asleep, or achieve restful sleep, leading to significant negative impacts on daily functioning and overall well-being.

One common sleep disorder is called insomnia. Insomnia causes individuals to struggle to fall asleep or stay asleep, resulting in daytime fatigue, irritability, memory problems, and difficulty concentrating. 

These disorders can arise from various factors, including genetics, lifestyle, medical conditions, and stress. Proper diagnosis and treatment, which may include lifestyle changes, behavioral therapy, medications, or medical devices, are crucial to managing these disorders and improving overall sleep quality and daytime functioning.

Common Types of Sleep Disorders

Other examples of common sleep disorders include:

  • Sleep apnea: Causes repeated interruptions in breathing during sleep, leading to fragmented sleep and potential health risks due to reduced oxygen intake. 
  • Narcolepsy: Characterized by sudden and uncontrollable episodes of daytime sleepiness, often accompanied by muscle weakness triggered by strong emotions (cataplexy).
  • Parasomnias: Causes abnormal behaviors during sleep, such as sleepwalking, nightmare disorder, and REM sleep behavior disorder, where individuals physically act out their dreams. 
  • Restless Legs Syndrome: Causes an irresistible urge to move the legs, often disrupting sleep onset. 
  • Circadian rhythm disorders: Involve disruptions to the body’s internal clock, leading to misalignment between sleep-wake cycles and the natural day-night cycle.

Each of these can cause significant disruptions to one’s sleep patterns and therefore impair daily functioning. However, sleep therapy can help treat these disorders and give people ways to manage their symptoms, making a good night’s sleep possible again.

What Causes Insomnia: Unraveling the Factors

There is no definitive cause known for insomnia; however, it is often a result of many factors, including: 

  • Stress
  • Changed travel or work schedules
  • Poor sleep habits
  • Eating late in the evening
  • Mental health disorders
  • Medications
  • Medical conditions
  • Substances like caffeine, nicotine, or alcohol

Everyone’s bodies react to each of these factors differently, so in order to figure out the true cause, it’s best to talk to a sleep therapist about your symptoms and patterns.

What Do They Do at Sleep Therapy? How Does Sleep Therapy Work?

Sleep therapy, also known as sleep medicine or sleep disorder treatment, is a branch of medical practice that aims to diagnose and treat various sleep disorders. Sleep therapy may involve a combination of medical interventions, behavioral changes, and lifestyle adjustments. Below is how it generally works:

  1. Diagnosis: The first step in sleep therapy is a thorough assessment and diagnosis of the specific sleep disorder. This may involve medical history evaluation, physical examinations, and sometimes sleep studies conducted in a sleep laboratory or at-home sleep tests.
  2. Treatment plan: Once the diagnosis is established, a tailored treatment plan is developed based on the individual’s needs and the nature of their sleep disorder. 
  3. Lifestyle changes: Depending on the requirements of one’s treatment plan, these changes might include adopting good sleep hygiene practices such as maintaining a regular sleep schedule, creating a comfortable sleep environment, and avoiding caffeine and electronic screens before bedtime.
  4. Implementing treatments: Therapists will then implement an appropriate treatment for the diagnosed sleep disorder. Common treatment approaches are behavioral therapies such as cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia (CBT-I), medical interventions like medications or medical devices, light therapy (largely used to treat circadian rhythm disorders), surgery, or alternative therapies like acupuncture or relaxation techniques.
  5. Follow-up and monitoring: Ongoing follow-ups and monitoring are essential to track progress and make any necessary adjustments to the treatment plan. This may involve regular appointments with a sleep specialist.

Sleep therapy is highly individualized and depends on the specific sleep disorder, its severity, and the patient’s unique circumstances. It’s important for individuals experiencing sleep disturbances to consult a medical professional who specializes in sleep medicine to receive proper diagnosis and treatment recommendations.

What Does a Sleep Therapist Do?

A sleep therapist is a healthcare professional specialized in diagnosing and treating sleep-related disorders and disturbances. Their goal is to help individuals achieve sustainable improvements in sleep quality and duration, thereby enhancing their overall well-being and daily functioning. 

Sleep therapists typically begin by conducting comprehensive assessments of a patient’s sleep patterns, habits, and overall health. They might use tools like sleep diaries, questionnaires, and even sleep monitoring devices to gather relevant information and develop tailored treatment plans for their clients. Additionally, sleep therapists work with patients to establish consistent sleep schedules and routines, aiming to regulate circadian rhythms and promote healthier sleep cycles. 

These therapists play a crucial role in addressing issues that hinder an individual’s ability to attain restful and rejuvenating sleep. Through their expertise, sleep therapists provide valuable guidance and support to those struggling with sleep disorders, enabling them to achieve better sleep and lead healthier lives.

A man sitting on a paper plane

Get mental health help

We provide award-winning mental health services nationwide, with flexible scheduling & insurance coverage. Start your journey this week.

What Is the Best Therapy for Sleep Problems?

Therapists often employ cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia (CBT-I), an evidence-based approach that focuses on changing negative thought patterns and behaviors related to sleep and replacing them with more positive patterns. 

However, the best therapy for sleep problems depends on the specific nature of the sleep issue and its underlying causes, as different sleep problems may require different approaches. Here are some common therapies and strategies used to address various sleep problems:

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy for Insomnia (CBT-I): This is considered one of the most effective treatments for chronic insomnia. CBT-I involves identifying and changing negative thought patterns and behaviors that contribute to sleep problems. It may include techniques such as sleep restriction, stimulus control, relaxation training, and addressing anxiety related to sleep.
  • Sleep hygiene: Improving sleep habits and routines can often have a positive impact on sleep quality. This includes maintaining a consistent sleep schedule, creating a comfortable sleep environment, avoiding caffeine and electronics close to bedtime, and engaging in relaxing activities throughout the day and before sleep.
  • Relaxation techniques: Practices such as progressive muscle relaxation, deep breathing, meditation, and mindfulness can help reduce stress and anxiety, which are common contributors to sleep difficulties.
  • Light therapy: Light exposure, particularly in the morning, can help regulate the body’s internal clock and improve sleep patterns, especially for people with circadian rhythm disorders or seasonal affective disorder (SAD).
  • Medical treatments: For sleep problems caused by underlying medical conditions such as sleep apnea or restless legs syndrome, medical interventions may be necessary. These could include the use of continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) devices, medication, or other medical therapies prescribed by a doctor.
  • Medication: Sleep medications are generally considered a short-term solution and are typically used when other approaches have not been effective. These should be used under the guidance of a medical professional due to potential side effects and risk of dependency.
  • Mind-body therapies: Practices such as yoga and tai chi can help reduce stress and promote relaxation, which in turn can improve sleep quality.
  • Biofeedback: This technique involves using electronic monitoring to provide information about physiological functions like heart rate, muscle tension, and brain activity. It can help individuals learn how to control these functions to promote relaxation and better sleep.
  • Sleep tracking and apps: Some individuals benefit from using sleep tracking apps or devices that monitor their sleep patterns. While not a direct therapy, these tools can provide insights into sleep habits and help users make informed changes.
  • Consulting a professional: If sleep problems persist, it’s important to consult a healthcare provider or sleep specialist. They can help diagnose the underlying causes of the sleep issues and recommend appropriate treatments.

Remember, the effectiveness of each therapy can vary from person to person. It’s important to address any underlying factors contributing to sleep problems and work with healthcare professionals to determine the best course of action for your specific situation.

What Is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Insomnia?

Cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia, also known as CBT-I, is a therapeutic approach that is used to root out any psychological factors that could be impacting sleep. It treats insomnia by identifying negative thoughts and behaviors that could be causing sleep problems and adjusting them. It may include techniques such as sleep restriction, stimulus control, relaxation training, and addressing anxiety related to sleep.

CBT-I also helps individuals develop better sleep habits and manage any stress and anxiety that could be contributing to sleeplessness. It is considered a first-line treatment for chronic insomnia and has been shown to be effective without the potential side effects associated with medications. 

What Are 3 Treatments for Any Sleep Disorder?

There are various sleep disorders, each with its own set of treatments. Here are three treatments that are commonly used to treat multiple kinds of sleep disorders:

  1. Cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia (CBT-I): As stated above, this is a structured therapeutic approach that focuses on changing behaviors and thought patterns related to sleep. It is primarily used to treat insomnia, the most common sleep disorder. CBT-I helps individuals develop better sleep habits, manage stress and anxiety related to sleep, and restructure negative thoughts that can contribute to sleep difficulties. 
  2. Continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) therapy: CPAP therapy is the standard treatment for obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), a disorder characterized by interrupted breathing during sleep due to a collapse of the upper airway. A CPAP machine delivers a continuous stream of air through a mask to keep the airway open, preventing breathing disruptions and improving oxygen levels during sleep. It’s an effective treatment for reducing daytime sleepiness, improving sleep quality, and addressing the health risks associated with untreated OSA.
  3. Light therapy: Light therapy is used to treat circadian rhythm disorders, such as delayed sleep phase disorder and seasonal affective disorder (SAD). Circadian rhythm disorders are disruptions in the body’s internal clock that regulate sleep-wake cycles. Light therapy involves exposure to bright, artificial light (usually in the morning) to help reset the body’s circadian rhythm. This can help individuals synchronize their sleep-wake patterns with the natural day-night cycle and alleviate symptoms like difficulty falling asleep or waking up at undesired times.

It’s important to note that the appropriate treatment for a sleep disorder depends on an accurate diagnosis by a healthcare professional. Treatment plans may also include a combination of approaches, such as lifestyle changes, medications, and other therapeutic interventions, tailored to the individual’s specific needs and the nature of their sleep disorder.

How Can I Do Sleep Therapy at Home?

Sleep therapy, also known as sleep hygiene, involves adopting healthy sleep habits and creating a conducive environment for better sleep—something that starts at home. Below are some steps you can take to practice sleep therapy at home:

  • Establish a consistent sleep schedule. Try to go to bed and wake up at the same time every day, even on weekends. This helps regulate your body’s internal clock.
  • Create a relaxing bedtime routine. Engage in calming activities before bed, such as reading, listening to soothing music, taking a warm bath, or practicing relaxation techniques like deep breathing or meditation.
  • Limit screen time. The blue light emitted by phones, tablets, and computers can interfere with your sleep by suppressing melatonin production. Try to avoid screens at least an hour before bedtime. You can also adjust the settings on many devices to make them emit yellow light rather than blue light after a certain time each day.
  • Make your bedroom comfortable. Keep your bedroom dark, quiet, and at a comfortable temperature. Invest in a good mattress and pillows to support a restful sleep.
  • Avoid heavy meals and stimulants. Avoid large, heavy meals close to bedtime. Also, limit your caffeine and nicotine intake, as these can interfere with your ability to fall asleep.
  • Exercise regularly. Regular physical activity can improve sleep quality. However, try to finish exercising a few hours before bedtime, as exercising too close to bedtime might energize you and make it harder to fall asleep.
  • Manage stress. Practice stress-reduction techniques during the day such as yoga, meditation, or progressive muscle relaxation. This can help alleviate anxiety and promote better sleep.
  • Limit naps. While short power naps can be refreshing, long or late-afternoon naps can disrupt your nighttime sleep. If you need to nap, aim for a short nap of around 20-30 minutes earlier in the day.
  • Limit fluid intake. Minimize your fluid intake in the evening to avoid waking up during the night for bathroom trips.
  • Expose yourself to natural light. Natural light exposure during the day helps regulate your body’s internal clock. Spend time outdoors or open your curtains during the day.
  • Avoid clock-watching. Constantly checking the clock when you can’t sleep can increase anxiety and make it even harder to fall asleep. Consider removing the clock from your view at night.
  • Limit bedtime worrying. If you find your mind racing with worries at bedtime, consider keeping a journal to jot down your thoughts before sleep. This can help clear your mind.
  • Use your bed only for sleep and intimacy. Avoid working, watching TV, or using electronic devices in bed. This helps your brain associate the bed with sleep.
  • Seek professional help. If you continue to struggle with sleep despite practicing these techniques, consider seeking help from a sleep specialist or a healthcare provider. They can provide personalized guidance and recommendations.

Remember that changes in sleep habits might take some time to show significant results. Be patient and consistent with these practices to improve your sleep over time.

Exploring the Benefits of Sleep Therapy: How Sleep Therapy Can Transform Your Sleep Quality

Sleep therapy offers a range of significant benefits for individuals struggling with sleep disturbances. The benefits of sleep therapy include

  • Sustained improvements in sleep patterns
  • Long-lasting results
  • Reduced reliance on sleep medications
  • Decreased time spent awake at night
  • Improved daytime functioning
  • Enhanced sleep efficiency
  • Decreasing symptoms of anxiety and depression tied to sleep disturbances

By promoting healthier sleep behaviors and restructuring distorted beliefs about sleep, individuals can experience sustainable improvements in their sleep patterns. Unlike relying solely on medication, sleep therapy offers a long-lasting solution that equips individuals with the tools to manage sleep-related anxiety and stress.

Sleep therapy empowers individuals to regain control over their sleep, resulting in better overall well-being, increased productivity, and a higher quality of life. As a non-invasive and holistic approach, sleep therapy addresses the root causes of sleep issues, making it a valuable option for those seeking sustainable solutions to their sleep challenges.

Expert Sleep Therapists at Thriveworks

You deserve to have restful nights of sleep, and the sleep therapists at Thriveworks want to help you get there. With diverse knowledge and experience, our therapists can help you identify what’s wrong, give you tools to manage your symptoms, and create a treatment plan that works for you.

Personalized Approaches for Restful Nights

The expert sleep therapists at Thriveworks are person-centered and motivated to provide quality care. They will use their knowledge and expertise to work with you and design an effective treatment plan to treat your symptoms.

Booking Your First Sleep Therapy Session

Scheduling a sleep therapy session with Thriveworks is quick and easy. You can either use our online booking tool to find a provider and schedule an appointment or call to speak with our friendly scheduling specialists. Clients that book with Thriveworks often see a provider within just a week of scheduling. Stop suffering through sleepless nights and get the help you deserve—schedule a session with Thriveworks today.

  • Clinical writer
  • Editorial writer
  • Clinical reviewer
  • 1 sources
Avatar photo
Theresa Lupcho, LPCLicensed Professional Counselor
See Theresa's availability

Theresa Lupcho is a Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC) with a passion for providing the utmost quality of services to individuals and couples struggling with relationship issues, depression, anxiety, abuse, ADHD, stress, family conflict, life transitions, grief, and more.

Avatar photo

Alexandra “Alex” Cromer is a Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC) who has 4 years of experience partnering with adults, families, adolescents, and couples seeking help with depression, anxiety, eating disorders, and trauma-related disorders.

Picture of woman in front of flowers
Hannah DeWittMental Health Writer

Hannah is a Junior Copywriter at Thriveworks. She received her bachelor’s degree in English: Creative Writing with a minor in Spanish from Seattle Pacific University. Previously, Hannah has worked in copywriting positions in the car insurance and trucking sectors doing blog-style and journalistic writing and editing.

We only use authoritative, trusted, and current sources in our articles. Read our editorial policy to learn more about our efforts to deliver factual, trustworthy information.

  • Li, L., Wu, C., Gan, Y., Qu, X., & Lu, Z. (2016). Insomnia and the risk of depression: a meta-analysis of prospective cohort studies. BMC Psychiatry, 16(1).

No comments yet

The information on this page is not intended to replace assistance, diagnosis, or treatment from a clinical or medical professional. Readers are urged to seek professional help if they are struggling with a mental health condition or another health concern.

If you’re in a crisis, do not use this site. Please call the Suicide & Crisis Lifeline at 988 or use these resources to get immediate help.

Get the latest mental wellness tips and discussions, delivered straight to your inbox.