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The 3 Cs of CBT for Insomnia | Sleep Reset

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March 25, 2022

A Cognitive Behavioral Therapy-Based Exercise for Better Sleep

Medically reviewed by: 

Dr. Areti Vassilopoulos

Yale School of Medicine

A Cognitive Behavioral Therapy-Based Exercise for Better Sleep

We’ve all been there before. You’re lying in bed and you can’t fall asleep. Not only that, but you keep thinking about how you can’t fall asleep and how it’s going to affect you the following day. This feeling isn’t uncommon, and when you deal with it consistently, these thoughts can become habitual, leading to sleep anxiety.

If you’re having trouble falling asleep at night or staying asleep because of anxiety, you may want to try a cognitive behavioral therapy technique to help reframe the way you think about sleep. Cognitive-behavioral therapy is a psychological treatment that can be used for a wide range of conditions, including insomnia and anxiety.

One particular exercise in cognitive behavior is called the Three C Method. In this article, we’ll talk about the Three C Method and how you can use it to get better sleep.

How the 3 Cs of CBT Relate to Sleep

The Three C Method helps people to recognize their negative thoughts, confront them, and shift to a more positive way of thinking. When you’re well-practiced in the Three C Method, it’s easier to turn those automatic negative thoughts into positive ones. It’s a fairly simplified version of cognitive-behavioral therapy, but it can be effective for many people.

Cognitive-behavioral therapy and the Three C Method can be applied to sleep problems as well. Typically, negative thoughts play a role in keeping you up at night and causing your sleep anxiety. Using the Three C Method, you can reframe these negative sleep-related thoughts and find a better way to think about sleep.

What Are the 3 Cs?

The Three C Method is a mnemonic for catching, checking, and changing. When negative thoughts arise, you can follow these steps to help assuage them and reframe yourself with a positive mindset.

Catch It

The first step in the Three C Method is to catch the negative thought as soon as it starts to bubble up. From a sleep habit perspective, this might be a thought like “If I don’t fall asleep soon, I’m going to be tired for work tomorrow” or “If I hadn’t hit the snooze button, I would have gotten up on time instead of messing up my sleep schedule.”

Those kinds of negative thoughts are easy to recognize, but sometimes your thoughts may be more subtle. It’s important to recognize any and all negative thoughts surrounding your sleep habits. Once you catch your negative thoughts, it’s time to check it.

Check It

Checking your negative thoughts can help you confront the thought and check in with yourself to learn why you’re feeling that way. Once you’ve identified your negative thought, you can check it by asking some of the following questions:

  • Is this thought really even true?
  • Should I actually feel bad about this every time I have this thought?
  • Is it worth dwelling on this negative thought? Does it help me reach my sleep goals?
  • If this thought is true, how can I work on it to get better sleep?

Confronting your negative self-talk can help you realize that maybe the source of your anxiety isn’t as large a concern as you are making it. The check step can be tricky for many people and it’s okay if you don’t immediately have the answers to your questions. It may be worth talking with a therapist or sleep coach to help you get better at the checking stage. 

When you’re already hard on yourself, it can be more difficult to look at your negative thoughts from an objective standpoint. Another way to contextualize these questions is to think how a friend or family member would answer them if you brought the negative thought up to them.

Though this step can be challenging, it’s essential. Being able to objectively look at your negative thoughts can make a big impact on your ability to reframe them.

Change It

Your negative thoughts may have become so familiar and habitual to you that they pop up automatically. This is where the change step comes in. Your goal should be to replace your negative thoughts with thoughts that are healthier and that help you reach your sleep goals.

One way to do this is to reword your negative thoughts or paint them in a more positive light. 

Here’s a version of the negative thought:

  • I shouldn’t have hit the snooze button. Now I screwed up my sleep schedule, and it’ll be that much harder to fall asleep tonight.

This is a pretty harsh thought that gives you no room for error on your journey to better sleep. So we catch the thought, we check it and ask ourselves why we’re having that negative thought, and we change it to something more positive. Like this:

  • I had a long day yesterday, so I’m not surprised I hit the snooze button. I’ll just make sure to try again tomorrow and get back on track!

This positive thought admits that you’re not perfect and that you’re working on your sleep habit. No one is able to wake up at the exact same time every single day, but if you’re trying to stick to a sleep schedule, you’re working toward better sleep hygiene. Giving yourself positive encouragement is much more productive than convincing yourself that you’ll never be able to get better sleep.

The Three C Method isn’t an automatic way to change your thought processes around sleep or otherwise. It will take some time and practice. But the more you do it, the better you’ll get at it. Just start with catching your negative thoughts and then build from there.

Understanding Cognitive Restructuring

Cognitive behavioral therapy techniques and the Three C Method are rooted in a concept known as cognitive restructuring. Cognitive restructuring is based on increasing your overall awareness of your negative thoughts. When you’re more aware of these thoughts, it’s easier to challenge and rebuild them in a way that is more productive for a healthy life.

Cognitive restructuring can be done on your own, but the results can be more efficient and effective when you work with a therapist or sleep coach. By working with someone, you can talk about your thought patterns that contribute to your problems, like your sleep issues and find ways to reframe those patterns. A professional can help you recognize negative thoughts that might have become ingrained or habitual. It’s always good to have an objective perspective to help you on your journey toward more positive thinking.

How Self-Talk Affects Your Sleep

Self-talk can have a significant impact on sleep. It’s easier than we might realize to dwell on our thoughts. This goes for both negative and positive self-talk. With negative self-talk, you can create anxiety around sleep, which will make it more difficult for you to look forward to bedtime. You might be fearful that you’ll just toss and turn or that you won’t get the rest you need. On the flip side, positive self-talk can encourage you to stick to healthy sleep habits and look forward to getting a restful night of sleep.

How to Limit Negative Thoughts Before Bed

IIf you’re prone to having negative thoughts before bed, there are some techniques you can try along with the Three C Method to calm your mind and body. It’s good to work on your sleep hygiene, which involves creating a comfortable sleep environment and forming restful sleep habits. Here are some ways you can improve your sleep hygiene and limit your negative thoughts around bedtime.

  • Create a calming sleep routine: Make the last hour before bed a time for relaxation and winding down from the day. This can help you slow your thoughts, address any negative thoughts that do come up, and do something relaxing that helps you calm down. Taking a warm bath or reading an enjoyable book are good additions to a sleep routine, and they can help you get out of your head. You may also find it useful to write in a journal at the beginning of your routine. You can write down all of the stressful and negative thoughts, essentially getting them out of your head for the night. While you’re doing this, work on addressing those thoughts and changing them to something more positive.
  • Don’t let sleep stress get the better of you: Sometimes when we lie down at night, we just stay in bed even if we can’t fall asleep — thinking that if we lie there, we’ll eventually drift off to sleep even if we’re not tired. However, if you’ve been in bed for around 15 to 20 minutes and you feel restless, it’s better to get up for a bit and try again later. Go do something calming for 20 or 30 minutes and then try to resume your sleep.
  • Create a relaxing sleep environment: Make sure your bedroom is as conducive to sleep as possible. Turn off all the lights, turn the temperature down, and make sure it’s quiet. And don’t underestimate the power of comfortable bedding and a good mattress.

Working on addressing your negative thoughts and improving your sleep hygiene can go hand in hand. If you’re having trouble with sleep anxiety, you don’t have to deal with it alone. Let Sleep Reset help you get better sleep!

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As we mentioned, trying to retrain your mind and body for sleep can be difficult on your own. With Sleep Reset, you can get all the support and tools you need to fall asleep faster, sleep throughout the night, and wake up feeling well-rested. Sleep Reset is a science-backed sleep program that uses proven methods to help you reduce your sleep anxiety and fall asleep in minutes. Sleep Reset is also an all-natural solution, which means no pills and supplements or the grogginess and side effects that come with them.

Ready to get your personalized sleep plan and your own dedicated sleep coach? Take our sleep quiz today to see how Sleep Reset can help you!

Disclaimer: The information provided on this page should not be taken as medical advice and should not replace the advice of your healthcare provider. Always consult your physician before taking any new medication(s) or altering your current dosage.

Dr. Areti Vassilopoulos

Dr. Vassilopoulos is the Clinical Content Lead for Sleep Reset and Assistant Professor at Yale School of Medicine. She has co-authored peer-reviewed research articles, provides expert consultation to national nonprofit organizations, and chairs clinical committees in pediatric health psychology for the American Psychological Association. She lives in New England with her partner and takes full advantage of the beautiful hiking trails.