A new study, published in the June 9 issue of the Annals of Internal Medicine, suggests that cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) can be an effective and drug-free solution to those suffering from chronic insomnia.

CBT, a form of psychotherapy designed to treat depression, has expanded its use to cover other chronic conditions such as migraines and social anxiety disorders. An earlier study also used CBT to help cancer patients with sleep problems increase their sleep time. Now, researchers at Melbourne Sleep Disorders Centre in Australia suggest that the technique can be beneficial to those experiencing chronic insomnia (a sleep disorder that occurs at least three times per week for at least three months). About 10 percent of Americans experience this problem, and most doctors prescribe sleeping pills to improve their condition.

The researchers wondered if there could be a drug-free option for affected people and checked if CBT could do the work. They did a meta-analysis of 20 studies, involving more than 1,000 participants, which assessed the effectiveness of CBT on adults with chronic insomnia. The therapy focused on correcting the participants' attitudes towards sleep, setting their time limit in bed, improving their sleep hygiene and addressing other psychological factors that disrupt sleep.

The analysis showed that those who underwent CBT were able to sleep 20 minutes faster, stay asleep 30 minutes longer and improve their sleep quality by 10 percent compared to those who were on sleeping pills.

The researchers believe that doctors should recommend CBT first before putting a patient on medication.

"Medications are associated with side effects and also the risk of tolerance," James M. Trauer, study leader at Melbourne Sleep Disorders Centre, said to Reuters Health.

"These are important drawbacks, but the biggest problem with medications is that they don't get to the core of the problem," said Trauer. "Psychological treatments aim to understand what is driving the insomnia and reverse these processes, while medications just mask the symptoms."