How Cognitive Behavior Therapy Can Help Your Teen Manage Anxiety-Related Insomnia

Teen Insomnia and CBT

If your teen suffers from an anxiety-related disorder, they may have trouble sleeping at night or have a disordered sleep schedule. While insomnia isn’t a picnic for any age group, it can be especially hard for teens since teens experience a natural shift in their circadian rhythms and may need more sleep than other demographics, according to John Hopkins Medicine.

If your teen is busy with homework, extracurricular activities, or a part-time job, they may become anxious about having enough energy to complete these tasks. One way to manage anxiety-related insomnia is with counseling. You may want to give cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) a try.

What Is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy?

CBT is a type of psychosocial intervention that can improve your child’s mental health and, in turn, symptoms like insomnia. During CBT, the therapist will teach your child how to regulate negative or distressing emotions and how to challenge unhelpful thoughts (cognitive distortions). CBT is a great therapy because your child will also learn coping strategies that he or she can use outside the counselor’s office.

What Are Some Examples of CBT Coping Strategies?

There are many types of coping strategies your child can use with CBT.

While every therapist is different, your child’s counselor may teach your child stimulus control, breathing exercises, and journaling exercises.


Stimulus Control

Some teens with anxiety-related insomnia may need to strengthen the cues in their bedroom for sleep and relaxation. For instance, if your child has a TV, computer, video game console, or other screen devices that are loud and used for entertainment, it may be hard for them to get into a relaxing mindset for sleep.

While a little screen time can be helpful to unwind, too much of it—especially near bedtime—can be bad since the blue light given off by these screens suppresses melatonin, a hormone that helps to regulate sleep-wake cycles.

Social media devices can also be a problematic stimulus for anxiety and insomnia since these tools can lead to fear of missing out syndrome (FOMO), which can cause teens to lose sleep since they are worried about missing important updates from their friends.

During CBT, a counselor can help your teen track their screen time as well as their feelings when they view certain media. The therapist may ask your teen to remove screens and other distracting belongings from their bedroom so that the area is associated with sleep and relaxation.


Breathing Exercises

Breathing exercises can help your child slow their heart rate if they are having an anxiety attack. Breathing exercises can also help to reduce feelings of anxiety, anger, depression, or other negative emotions that may be keeping your teen up at night.

The therapist may recommend that your child incorporate meditation or even yoga poses into their routine. Mindful, diaphragmatic breathing is a big part of any yoga practice and could help your child clear their mind before bedtime. In fact, one study has shown that yoga can help with chronic insomnia and secondary insomnia, or insomnia related to disorders like anxiety.


Journaling Exercises

Sometimes people with anxiety can’t sleep because they ruminate and have pent-up thoughts that they need to vent.

Journaling is a great tool for your teen to use at the counseling office and at home. When your child journals, they will be able to identify common fears and triggers that cause their anxiety and insomnia. When your teen writes down their worries, they will be better able to challenge cognitive distortions and process difficult emotions.

The therapist may have your child journal to identify behavioral patterns and coping strategies that have or haven’t worked in the past. By getting worries out on paper, your child will be able to clear their head of stress and get more restful sleep.

About the Author

Headshot: Daniel Villiers, Ph.D.
Dr. Dan brings over 10 years of experience working with children, adolescents, young adults and families in a range of clinical and educational settings.