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Could Just One Hour Of Therapy Cure Insomnia?

Our researchers have found just an hour of CBT can improve insomnia symptoms in prisoners.

As one of the UK’s top 50 universities for research power (REF 2014), much of the work we carry out here at Northumbria University has outstanding reach and significance. Even so, it’s rare for us to come across a study that conclusively shows such dramatic results.

A study published in the Behavioural Sleep Journal, and carried by Randall, Nowakowski & Ellis from our Department of Psychology, shows that just one hour of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) could help halt the development of insomnia in 73% of prisoners living with the condition.


What’s the problem?

Depending on the type of crime and their particular prison, prisoners often spend up to 22 hours a day in their cells. They have limited access to exercise and sunlight, and are unable to make adjustments to the comfort levels of their environment. Spending sleeping and waking times in the same space can have a disorientating effect on individuals’ sleep routines. As a result, it’s estimated that over 61% of prison inmates suffer from chronic insomnia.

Professor Ellis, Department of Psychology, Northumbria, said:

“The line between day-time and night-time environments is blurred for inmates, who spend a significant amount of time in their cells. Their bedroom becomes their living space, and not just the space where they sleep. They have less autonomy over their routine and certainly over their bedroom environment. As such, normal access to sleep cues are likely to be harder in this environment.” 

Chronic insomnia has been linked to increased anger, aggression and even suicide attempts, leading to additional financial strains on the prison system and increased likelihood of harm to patients and prison workers.


A simple solution

A study in 2015 showed that a single CBT session of just one hour can impact insomnia symptoms in 60% of the general population. Ellis and colleagues attempted to take this study further by applying the same principles to populations vulnerable to chronic insomnia.

The results were astounding: with just one hour of CBT, 73% of patients showed increased sleep levels and improvements to their general mood.


What is CBT?

Social psychology studies have demonstrated that the way we feel about a given situation is affected by both the way we think (cognitive processes) and act (behavioural processes) in that situation. Some people have positive thoughts about a situation, creating positive behaviours that reinforce good feelings. Others might respond negatively to the same situation, becoming trapped in a cycle of negative thoughts, behaviours and feelings.

CBT is based on the principle that by changing the way we think about situations, we can change the way we behave and, ultimately, the way we feel about it. CBT sessions usually involve an analysis of a patient's beliefs around a certain situation and include both cognitive and behavioural strategies on how to deal with them.

Following the study, Professor Ellis believes that CBT should now become standard practice for the treatment of chronic insomnia. He said: “Now that we have seen these results, I would like to see this form of therapy being rolled out in prisons nationally and internationally. If we look at the costs alone in terms of insomnia, managing it certainly makes good sense.”


Discover More

Fascinated by psychological research studies such as this? Our distance learning Psychology MSc will allow you to discover the power of the human mind and gain a stronger understanding of how people think, act and feel. Throughout, you’ll develop the core knowledge of psychology needed by the British Psychological Society (BPS) for Graduate Membership and you’ll also get to carry out your own independent research project.

Explore our course page to learn more.


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