The Science Behind Sleeping Well

Sleep is important.

Now, that might seem like rather an obvious thing to say, but it's certainly an easy thing to forget when we're sleeping well. However, when we're not sleeping well, it can become all too obvious, all too quickly, just how important it is.

When we don't sleep well, things can start to feel pretty rubbish. Poor sleep can affect our mood and our cognitive ability, particularly things like memory and concentration, and because we often feel exhausted it can lead us to opt out of doing the things we want to be doing. When we're sleep deprived, even relatively straightforward tasks become difficult, and poor sleep can even affect the relationships we have with the people we care about. Enough said - sleep really is important.

The trouble is, when we're not sleeping well, getting back to sleeping well may feel like an insurmountable task. Indeed, this is particularly the case if you're lying in bed thinking about it on repeat at 3am. However, there's good news on that front. There are a group of clinical techniques that have been developed and refined over the course of the last few decades to tackle insomnia head on and to do so without having to rely on medication. It's called Cognitive-Behaviour Therapy for Insomnia, CBT-I for short.  

Now, because poor sleep is something that is rooted in a number of different but associated areas of our experience, CBT-I works across several distinct elements of insomnia, tackling the problems step-by-step. The cognitive element is all to do with our thinking patterns, our beliefs and our perceptions and the behavioural element tackles our habits and behavioural responses to poor sleep. 

The most important thing about CBT-I is that it's an evidence-based treatment. Put simply, that means it has been really well tested by clinicians and researchers, often using the most powerful kinds of clinical tests, the Randomised Controlled Trial (RCT). The evidence that it is effective at treating insomnia is so compelling that it is recommended as a first-line clinical intervention in international clinical guidelines


Why can’t I do this on the NHS?

You can. Simply put, however, Cognitive-Behavioural Therapy for Insomnia (CBT-I) is just not that widely available and if it is available it's often group based, which may or may not appeal to everyone. A good first step is to talk to your GP and see what's available locally to you. In some regions of the UK, IAPT (Improving Access to Psychological Therapies) may offer CBT-I groups to local patients.

What if I’m struggling with more than just my sleep?

If you've been struggling with your sleep for a while it's probably quite likely that things have spilled out into other areas of your life. Alternatively, perhaps that's where your sleep difficulties started initially. Either way, the treatment we offer is flexible and personalised to you. As a Clinical Psychologist, Dr Gavriloff is able to work with a wide range of psychological problems. He takes each person and their experiences into account and will tailor the therapy to meet your own specific needs. 

How long does treatment take?

This is a tricky one to answer and will depend on what you've come for help with. In most cases, treatment for insomnia (CBT-I) might be expected to last around six to eight weekly sessions. However, this is only a guide and we will review as we go to make sure that we don't over- or under-do what you need. We only see people for as long as they need to be seen, so if it feels that therapy is no longer necessary, even if further sessions were planned, you will be offered the chance to conclude early and be refunded for any unused appointments.

How does the process work?

When someone refers themselves for therapy, the first thing we do is to arrange a standalone one-hour assessment appointment. This appointment does not commit you to a course of treatment. It is an opportunity to hear about what it is that you're finding difficult and how you'd like things to be different, to hear more about the treatment and to ask questions. At the assessment appointment we will also come up with a plan for treatment together. After the appointment an assessment letter is written and usually sent to the referring clinician or GP, with a copy for your records. 

Do I have to be based in Oxford?  Or in the UK?

Not at all. We know that there are people based all over the world who, for whatever reason, can't access high quality psychological therapy. Being a virtual clinic, we can and do take referrals from people based outside the UK. We use the English language in therapy and at the moment unfortunately can't offer therapy in other languages. Other than that, the only limitation is your time zone, and we'll do our best to make it work for you.