When your sleep patterns become disturbed, your physical and mental health suffers. That’s why living with insomnia can be a real challenge for many people. One evidence-based treatment is cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia (CBT-i).
Cognitive behavioral therapy has successfully been used to help people with various conditions, and CBT-i uses the same principles for insomnia. The American College of Physicians (ACP) has recommended that all adult patients receive CBT-i as an initial treatment for chronic insomnia. If you’re interested in how CBT-i might help improve your sleep, here are the best apps to teach you more.
CBT-i is a talking therapy that focuses on changing unhelpful habits and thought patterns that can lead to a racing mind and difficulty sleeping. All of these apps focus on learning positive strategies to combat the negative thoughts, leading you to a better night’s sleep. And if you’re a total beginner to the world of CBT-i, Restful is a perfect introduction.
Fill in an initial questionnaire to get a personal insomnia severity score. Then a personalized plan guides you through techniques like setting a sleep window and establishing good sleep hygiene to improve your sleep efficiency. Restful is an excellent tool for keeping a sleep diary and educating yourself about what’s helping and hindering your sleep. You’ll learn multiple techniques for improving your sleep quality and duration. Try using Restful alongside other tech for getting a better night’s sleep.
Download: Restful: CBT-i Insomnia Diary for iOS | CBT Thought Diary for Android (Subscription required, free trial available)
2. Zen Sleep: Insomnia & Stress
Zen Sleep conducts a detailed survey about your current sleep habits and then presents you with a checklist of instructions to help you prepare for sleep and strategies to use if you wake up. Use its suggestions alongside data from sleep-tracking apps for the Apple Watch or your preferred fitness tracker to help maximize sleep quality.
Like Restful, Zen works around a sleep diary where you record your sleep experiences and the app keeps track of your sleep score. There’s a set of CBT-i lessons, along with lots of bite-sized chunks of practical advice. Another benefit of Zen Sleep is an Unwind section containing meditations and sleep sounds. Frustratingly, the entire content is only unlocked over time as you complete your sleep routines. However, that gradual process is a good incentive to keep going with your positive practices.
Download: Zen Sleep for iOS | Android (Free)
3. Night Owl
Night Owl is a 56-day sleep therapy program with a series of recommended activities to complete each day. As you build your understanding of the CBT-i process, you can complete new tasks that are added each week. Like most of the apps here, you start by establishing a baseline of where your sleep health is and progress from there. Users who stick with the full program attain the best success rates, as shown in a 2018 scientific study of Night Owl published by the Sleep Research Society.
This app is more concerned with content than design, and the interface is pretty old-fashioned. It features a library with the entire course material, so if you like reading ahead, you won’t have the frustration of waiting to access all of the information you’ll need. Unlike most other apps here, there’s no free trial available. So, if you’re new to CBT-i, it’s worth checking out the free options before purchasing Night Owl.
Download: Night Owl Sleep Coach for iOS | Android ($9.99)
4. CBT-i Coach
Designed for veterans and military service members, the US Department for Veterans Affairs provides this CBT-i app for free to help anyone who has insomnia. Although principally designed for use alongside help from a healthcare professional, you can use it without assistance.
CBT-i Coach provides a comprehensive guide to developing positive sleep routines and gives you a helpful sleep tracker. It also contains reminder tools for all the factors that might help to improve your bedtime rituals, such as when to stop caffeine, wind down, and go to bed.
The Learn tab contains an extensive catalog of articles written by sleep experts and just about all the information you could ever need. With so much content offered for free, it’s difficult to justify paying for any other app. However, do take care to download the correct edition, as the US Department of Veterans Affairs has a second app, CBT-i Explorer, which requires a code from a healthcare provider. Also look out for the accompanying app, Insomnia Coach, which is well worth checking out for further sleep advice and strategies.
Download: CBT-i Coach for iOS | Android (Free)
Download: Insomnia Coach for iOS | Android (Free)
Sleepio from Big Health starts with the most in-depth questionnaire about your sleep habits of any app on this list. AI algorithms then provide a detailed six-week program that includes sleep tests and keeping a diary. Weekly learning sessions are presented brilliantly by “The Professor,” an animated figure who leads you through the process of identifying the thoughts and feelings that might be causing your insomnia and guides you through solutions.
This program is recommended by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence in the UK as an effective alternative to sleeping pills. And it’s available to millions of US residents through health insurance or employer-based health benefits. So, check the Sleepio website to see whether you’re eligible for the free program. If you qualify, Sleepio is the most approachable, modern way to access CBT-i.
Download: Sleepio for iOS | Android (Free)
6. Stellar Sleep
Stellar Sleep promises to help you “get better sleep for life.” More than 10,000 people have used this Harvard-developed program to overcome sleep issues. Take the initial sleep questionnaire on the Stellar Sleep website to get a personalized sleep plan, a free trial, and a reduced-cost subscription rate. With over 100 learning modules, this is a comprehensive program.
Stellar Sleep goes way beyond CBT-i, seeking to be your complete sleep solution. So, you’ll also get an extensive library of relaxation aids, including breathing exercises, meditations, bedtime stories, and more.
However, many apps offer alternative ways to get a good night’s rest. And after the initial trial, Stellar Sleep is expensive compared to the other CBT-i apps. So you might prefer to get CBT-i via one of the other providers and then download an excellent meditation program such as Calm or Headspace for relaxation and sleep aids.
Download: Stellar Sleep for iOS | Android (Subscription required, free trial available)
Use the Power of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy to Help You Get a Better Night’s Sleep
Research into the effectiveness of CBT-i has been very encouraging, showing how useful it can be for helping people escape the misery of insomnia. It is important to emphasize that these apps are generally recommended as a supplement to the advice and support offered by a professional healthcare provider. Be patient and stick to the program you choose, as you must practice all CBT techniques for around six weeks before you start to notice any positive results.