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The Benefits of Combining Cognitive Behaviour Therapy & Acceptance and Commitment Therapy in Treating Insomnia

Insomnia is a common sleep disorder that affects millions of people worldwide. It is characterized by difficulty falling asleep, staying asleep, or waking up too early, leading to daytime impairment and reduced quality of life. Traditional treatments, such as medication, often provide only temporary relief and can have side effects. Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) and Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) have emerged as effective non-pharmacological treatments for insomnia. This blog explores the benefits of combining CBT and ACT in treating insomnia, providing a comprehensive approach to improving sleep and overall well-being.

Understanding Insomnia

Definition and Symptoms

Insomnia is a sleep disorder characterized by:

  • Difficulty falling asleep
  • Difficulty staying asleep
  • Waking up too early and being unable to go back to sleep
  • Poor sleep quality

These symptoms result in daytime impairment, including fatigue, irritability, difficulty concentrating, and decreased performance in daily activities.

Causes of Insomnia

Insomnia can be caused by various factors, including:

  • Stress and anxiety
  • Depression
  • Poor sleep habits
  • Medical conditions
  • Medications
  • Environmental factors, such as noise or light

Understanding the underlying causes of insomnia is crucial for developing effective treatment strategies.

Cognitive Behaviour Therapy for Insomnia (CBT-I)

What is CBT-I?

Cognitive Behaviour Therapy for Insomnia (CBT-I) is a structured, evidence-based therapy that targets the thoughts and behaviors contributing to insomnia. It combines cognitive and behavioral techniques to improve sleep patterns and address maladaptive beliefs about sleep.

Components of CBT-I

Sleep Education

Educating patients about sleep hygiene and the sleep-wake cycle is crucial. Understanding factors that influence sleep, such as caffeine intake, screen time, and bedtime routines, helps patients make informed changes to their habits.

Cognitive Restructuring

Cognitive restructuring involves identifying and challenging negative thoughts and beliefs about sleep. Patients learn to reframe their thoughts, reducing anxiety and preoccupation with sleep difficulties.

Stimulus Control Therapy

This technique aims to strengthen the association between the bed and sleep. Patients are advised to use the bed only for sleep and sexual activity, avoiding activities like reading or watching TV in bed.

Sleep Restriction Therapy

Contrary to its name, sleep restriction therapy reduces time spent in bed to consolidate sleep. Gradually increasing the time spent in bed improves sleep efficiency.

Relaxation Techniques

Relaxation techniques, such as progressive muscle relaxation and deep breathing exercises, help reduce physical and mental arousal, facilitating easier sleep onset.

Efficacy of CBT-I

Numerous studies have demonstrated the effectiveness of CBT-I in improving sleep quality and reducing insomnia symptoms. Meta-analyses indicate that CBT-I is as effective as medication in the short term and superior in maintaining improvements long term.

Case Study: CBT-I Success

Consider Jane, a 35-year-old woman with chronic insomnia. After six weeks of CBT-I, she reported significant improvements in her sleep patterns. Cognitive restructuring helped her challenge catastrophic thoughts about sleepless nights, while sleep restriction therapy improved her sleep efficiency. Jane’s case exemplifies how CBT-I can transform sleep habits and enhance overall well-being.

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy for Insomnia (ACT-I)

What is ACT-I?

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy for Insomnia (ACT-I) is a form of cognitive-behavioral therapy that emphasizes acceptance and mindfulness strategies to address insomnia. Unlike traditional CBT-I, which focuses on changing thoughts, ACT-I encourages individuals to accept their thoughts and feelings without judgment, promoting psychological flexibility.

Components of ACT-I

Mindfulness Training

Mindfulness involves paying attention to the present moment without judgment. ACT-I uses mindfulness techniques to help individuals observe their thoughts and feelings related to sleep without becoming entangled in them.

Cognitive Defusion

Cognitive defusion techniques aim to change the way individuals interact with their thoughts. By recognizing thoughts as mere words or images, individuals can reduce their impact on behavior and emotions.

Values Clarification

ACT-I encourages individuals to identify their core values and align their actions with them. This process helps individuals prioritize meaningful activities over sleep-related worries.

Acceptance Strategies

Acceptance strategies involve embracing uncomfortable thoughts and feelings rather than avoiding or fighting them. This approach reduces the struggle with insomnia-related anxiety and promotes a more relaxed attitude towards sleep.

Efficacy of ACT-I

Research on ACT-I shows promising results. Studies indicate that ACT-I effectively reduces insomnia severity, enhances sleep quality, and improves psychological well-being. Its emphasis on acceptance and mindfulness makes it particularly beneficial for individuals with comorbid anxiety or depression.

Case Study: ACT-I Success

Meet John, a 42-year-old man with insomnia and anxiety. Through ACT-I, John learned to accept his anxiety about sleep rather than resist it. Mindfulness exercises helped him stay present during sleepless nights, reducing his overall anxiety. Over time, John’s sleep improved, and he reported feeling more at peace with his thoughts and emotions.

The Synergy of Combining CBT-I and ACT-I

Complementary Approaches

Combining CBT-I and ACT-I leverages the strengths of both therapies. While CBT-I focuses on changing maladaptive thoughts and behaviors, ACT-I emphasizes acceptance and mindfulness. This complementary approach provides a holistic treatment for insomnia, addressing both cognitive and emotional aspects.

Enhanced Psychological Flexibility

Psychological flexibility is the ability to adapt to changing circumstances, accept thoughts and feelings, and act in accordance with one’s values. Combining CBT-I and ACT-I enhances psychological flexibility, enabling individuals to better cope with insomnia-related challenges.

Addressing Comorbid Conditions

Insomnia often coexists with other mental health conditions, such as anxiety and depression. The combination of CBT-I and ACT-I is particularly beneficial for individuals with comorbid conditions, as it addresses both sleep-related and broader psychological issues.

Practical Integration of CBT-I and ACT-I Techniques

Sleep Education and Mindfulness

Educating patients about sleep hygiene can be complemented by mindfulness training. Patients learn to create a conducive sleep environment and practice mindfulness to stay present and reduce anxiety about sleep.

Cognitive Restructuring and Cognitive Defusion

Cognitive restructuring techniques from CBT-I can be integrated with cognitive defusion techniques from ACT-I. Patients learn to challenge negative thoughts while also recognizing them as mere mental events, reducing their emotional impact.

Stimulus Control and Acceptance Strategies

Stimulus control techniques can be combined with acceptance strategies. Patients are encouraged to use the bed only for sleep and accept any discomfort or anxiety about sleep without trying to control it.

Sleep Restriction and Values Clarification

Sleep restriction therapy can be paired with values clarification. Patients reduce time in bed to improve sleep efficiency while focusing on activities that align with their core values, reducing the emphasis on sleep.

Case Study: Combined Approach Success

Consider Sarah, a 50-year-old woman with chronic insomnia and generalized anxiety disorder. Through a combined approach of CBT-I and ACT-I, Sarah learned to challenge her negative thoughts about sleep and practice mindfulness. She used sleep restriction therapy to consolidate her sleep and engaged in values-based activities to reduce her anxiety. After three months, Sarah reported significant improvements in her sleep and overall well-being, highlighting the effectiveness of the combined approach.

Practical Applications and Tips

Implementing CBT-I and ACT-I Techniques


  1. Establish a Consistent Sleep Schedule: Go to bed and wake up at the same time every day, even on weekends.
  2. Create a Relaxing Bedtime Routine: Engage in calming activities before bed, such as reading or taking a warm bath.
  3. Limit Screen Time: Avoid screens at least an hour before bedtime to reduce blue light exposure.
  4. Challenge Negative Thoughts: Reframe thoughts like “I’ll never fall asleep” with more balanced ones, such as “I’ve had sleepless nights before, but I eventually fall asleep.”


  1. Practice Mindfulness: Incorporate mindfulness exercises, such as mindful breathing or body scans, into your daily routine.
  2. Observe Thoughts Without Judgment: Notice your thoughts about sleep without labeling them as good or bad.
  3. Align Actions with Values: Identify what matters most to you and focus on activities that reflect those values.
  4. Embrace Acceptance: Allow yourself to experience thoughts and feelings about sleep without trying to change them.

Combining CBT-I and ACT-I

Insomnia is a complex condition that requires more than just temporary fixes. Combining Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) and Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) offers a robust, evidence-based solution that addresses the root causes of insomnia. By targeting negative thoughts, maladaptive behaviors, and fostering acceptance and mindfulness, these therapies provide sustainable relief from sleep disturbances.

Whether through structured techniques of CBT-I, the flexible, acceptance-based approach of ACT-I, or a combination of both, individuals can find effective strategies to improve their sleep quality and overall well-being. If you or someone you know struggles with insomnia, consider exploring these therapeutic options to pave the way for restful nights and rejuvenated days.


Danielle is dedicated to empowering clients to restore a natural state of calm, balance and wellness within themselves.

By adopting a person centred approach Danielle guides each client on their healing journey.

Sessions are conducted in her comfortable and calming treatment room conveniently located in Payneham, South Australia with access to off-street parking. Alternatively clients are able to choose to have sessions online via Zoom in the comfort of their own home.