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Relearning how to sleep

About 10% of Québec adults suffer from chronic insomnia, while roughly 30% experience occasional insomnia, for example, during periods of stress (death of a loved one, loss of employment, separation, etc.). Charles Morin, Canada Research Chair on Sleeping Disorders at Université Laval, is studying the efficacy of cognitive behavioural therapies (CBTs) as a means of overcoming this problem, which can have serious mental and physical health consequences.

Every week the results of the therapies provide large quantities of data that are helping to refine our understanding of insomnia and how to treat it.

The cognitive component of CBT targets the patient's beliefs, negative thoughts and anxiety about insomnia, while the behavioral strategies address the habits and attitudes that interfere with sleep. Consider, for example, the use of nicotine, alcohol or caffeine, or certain tactics developed to try to counter the effects of insomnia, such as taking naps or going to bed earlier in the hope of getting a longer night's sleep.

CBTs rely on brief therapies that focus on problem-solving and patient autonomy. The therapist issues treatment instructions tailored to the specific problems of the patient, and then provides support, motivation and guidance to help the patient follow these instructions in an optimal manner. "Learning to sleep better may appear simple, but it is not. It is preferable to have the support of a professional", adds the researcher. Following treatment, about 80% of patients experience improved sleep and close to half manage to overcome insomnia.

Every week the results of the therapies carried out at Université Laval provide large quantities of data that are helping to refine our understanding of insomnia and how to treat it. All of this information has led to the development of increasingly personalized approaches in addition to tools including a self-help sleep book and interactive computer programs.

Moreover, in a recent study, Charles Morin and his team compared the success of CBT versus medication. The results show that insomnia medication can play a positive role as part of a treatment strategy.  However, as medications attack the problem without treating its underlying causes, the cognitive behavioral approach remains central to effective treatment.