Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Can Treat Senior Insomnia

Man having difficulty sleepingCognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) may effectively treat insomnia in older adults, according to a study published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society. Insomnia is common among older adults, whose health, lifestyle, and medications can make sleep more difficult. Statistics from the National Institutes of Health show almost half of adults older than 60 experience insomnia.

Despite stereotypes that suggest older adults need little sleep, the National Sleep Foundation recommends 7-8 hours of sleep for adults 65 and older. Younger adults need only slightly more sleep, at 7-9 hours of sleep per night.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy to Treat Insomnia

Cognitive behavioral therapy aims to alter people’s thoughts with the goal of changing their behavior. A person engaged in CBT can learn to detect automatic thoughts, question those thoughts, replace them with healthier and more realistic thoughts, and then use the changed thought patterns to change their behavior. CBT for insomnia trains participants in healthy sleep habits, helping them to identify and address problematic sleep patterns.

To test the effectiveness of CBT for insomnia, researchers divided 159 seniors into three groups. Participants ranged in age from 60 to 90. Most of the participants were male veterans.

Two groups received CBT from sleep coaches with a master’s degree in public health, social work, or communications. In one group, CBT training was in a group setting. The second group received one-on-one CBT coaching. A third group participated in general sleep education. Each training program was the same duration, consisting of five sessions over six weeks.

At the end of the six-week period, participants who underwent CBT training in both group and individual settings saw significant improvements in sleep. On average, CBT participants fell asleep 23 minutes earlier, and their total wake time during the night decreased by 68 minutes. They also reported greater sleep quality.

Insomnia Treatment Recommendations

Sleeping medications can be addictive, and seniors who take other medications may not be able to safely take sleep drugs. CBT offers a viable alternative. Sleep experts have long advocated for non-medication approaches to insomnia. In May 2016, the American College of Physicians recommended CBT before pursuing medication for people with chronic insomnia.

Because this study included male veterans, the authors say the results can’t yet be applied to females or non-veterans with sleep issues. Further research is necessary to determine if CBT for insomnia will be effective for other groups.


  1. ACP recommends cognitive behavioral therapy as initial treatment for chronic insomnia. (2016, May 3). Retrieved from
  2. Cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia provided by sleep coaches. (2016, October 28). Retrieved from
  3. Insomnia. (n.d.). National Institutes of Health. Retrieved from
  4. National Sleep Foundation recommends new sleep times. (2015, February 2). Retrieved from

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  • Leave a Comment
  • Grace

    November 3rd, 2016 at 12:06 PM

    But I wouldn’t necessarily think that you had to be older to benefit from the treatment. If it works to treat insomnia then it should work for any age.

  • chip s.

    November 5th, 2016 at 11:19 PM

    i wish i can make it to 60. im 32 with chronic insomina. any ideas to sleep?

  • Gina Henrie

    November 10th, 2016 at 11:32 AM

    It is amazing to think that behavioral therapy can treat insomnia in older adults, I never would have guessed that. I agree that adults need 7-8 hours of sleep. I can feel the difference in my body when I get a good nights sleep. Its neat that cognitive behavioral therapy aims to alter peoples thoughts with the goal of changing their behavior.

  • Barrie

    November 11th, 2016 at 11:27 PM

    We are all striving to maintain a mere balance in our environment to protect our mother earth, and hence we are rather looking forward to save the trees. In most of the localities in Toronto, we can find trees surroundings of parks, school, and even near our houses. And the presence of trees means the leaves would obviously be here and there, and in our eavestrough too. Leaves may cause clogging these gutters which can further won’t allow the rain water to flow towards the ground, and hence cleaning of them regularly is very important.

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