These days, it seems as if there is an app for everything. From monitoring our calories to filtering photos, apps are helpful in our day to day life. Apps are also available that may help you retain and improve your sleep.

Although there are a variety of sleep apps that are used to help with sleep, certain types may be the most effective. For example, applications that utilize cognitive behavior therapy to improve sleep behaviors may be one of the most helpful to treat poor sleep.

What is Cognitive Behavior Therapy for Insomnia?

Cognitive behavior therapy is used to treat a variety of conditions. It can help you learn to change thought patterns, which may lead to developing new behaviors. Cognitive behavior therapy can be useful in treating poor sleep and insomnia

Although the reasons for insomnia may vary, cognitive behavior therapy may be helpful without the use of sleep medication. Sleep medication helps you get to sleep. But it does not get to the root of the problem, including the causes of insomnia. Plus, sleeping pills can have side effects.

Cognitive behavior therapy for insomnia (CBTI) has become the first-line treatment for insomnia. That’s likely because CBT-I addresses the issues that are leading to poor sleep instead of just masking the problem. (1)

How CBT-I Helps Insomnia

Certain thoughts or patterns may trigger insomnia in some people. The goal of therapy for treating insomnia is to help you identify behaviors that may interfere with getting and staying asleep.

With guidance, you can learn new thought processes and actions to change patterns and issues that keep you awake at night. CBT-I involves a combination of tracking current sleep, learning relaxation strategies, and developing new ways to decrease behaviors and feelings that adversely affect your sleep.

Sleep Apps Can Help

Face to face CBTI can be a good option. But it is not always available or practical for everyone to attend in-person therapy. That’s when sleep apps can be an excellent resource. Sleep apps can bridge the gap for people that do not have access to in-person CBTI. Apps are a feasible and convenient way to treat insomnia. (2)

Similar to in-person cognitive behavior therapy, online CBTI can be used to treat insomnia. (3) Specific features of sleep apps may vary by designer. But apps are available that use sleep hygiene and cognitive behavior therapy to improve sleep behaviors. Research supports the theory that online CBT for insomnia, such as through apps, can be helpful in improving sleep.

One randomized control trial published in the journal Current Sleep Medicine Reports involved people that had mild insomnia and used a phone app to provide CBT for insomnia for seven weeks, as well as a control group that did not. The results indicated that the group that used the CBTI app reported decreased insomnia. The improvements in sleep were still in place three months later during follow-up evaluation.  Additional studies also indicate that CBT apps for insomnia are effective. (4)

Sleep apps that use cognitive behavior therapy for insomnia may incorporate several components, including:

A sleep log

Keeping a sleep log is an important component of CBTI. In many cases, we may not even realize the habits we have and how they are affecting our ability to sleep soundly. By keeping a sleep log, you become aware of your sleep patterns over several weeks. Although it may vary, the information recorded in a sleep log usually includes:

  • Date
  • The time you went to bed
  • How long it took you to fall asleep
  • Number of times you woke up
  • Reason you woke up (bathroom trip, insomnia, heartburn, pain)
  • How long you remained awake
  • Time you woke up in the morning
  • How rested you felt
  • Number of caffeinated drinks
  • Number of alcoholic beverages
  • Exercise time
  • Daytime naps

There may be some variations as to what you track in your log. But the purpose is to learn what factors may be contributing to insomnia. In some cases, several things may be causing poor sleep.

Sleep restriction exercises

Sleep restriction can vary and involve either limiting sleep time or reducing the time you spend in bed awake to improve sleep efficiency. It’s not uncommon for people with insomnia to spend time in bed tossing and turning for hours. The stress of not falling asleep makes sleep more elusive.

To restrict time in bed, you start by reviewing your sleep log to determine how much of the time you spend in bed asleep. You only stay in bed that amount of time. For instance, if you sleep six hours on average, you only allow yourself to be in bed for six hours not more.  

Teaching better sleep hygiene habits

Our habits and sleep hygiene can significantly influence how well we sleep. Factors, such as the environment we sleep in and what we do before bed can play a role in the quality of our sleep. Some sleep apps use various strategies and exercises to help you control stimulus that may affect sleep, such as limiting caffeine or reducing time online right before bed. (5)

Relaxation exercises

It can be challenging to leave the stress of the day behind and relax your mind to help you fall asleep. Relaxation exercises via an app may include guided imagery, meditation, or breathing exercises. They can be helpful to help you unwind, so you can fall asleep. 

Sleep education

Learning about what affects the amount and quality of sleep is an integral part of reducing insomnia. Apps can help by providing education on factors that affect sleep. For example, learning about circadian rhythms may help you understand the importance of a regular sleep-wake cycle.

Sleep apps that utilize cognitive behavior therapy for insomnia may be a great way to get to the underlying thoughts and behaviors that are the problem. Cognitive behavior therapy doesn’t just mask the problem or provide a temporary fix. Instead, it can help you identify the behaviors that led to insomnia. Plus, you are equipped to deal with future sleep issues if they arise.