Could Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Help People With Idiopathic Hypersomnia or Narcolepsy?

Idiopathic hypersomnia and narcolepsy are both sleep disorders. Specifically, they are both considered hypersomnia disorders. This means the main symptom is excessive sleep for both disorders. New research shows cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) may help treat idiopathic hypersomnia (IH) and narcolepsy.1,2

This or That

Have you ever tried cognitive behavioral therapy for IH or narcolepsy?

What is cognitive behavioral therapy?

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a treatment option that is used for many different conditions. CBT is based on addressing the role our thoughts may have in a condition. The treatment is focused on learning and developing new habits and thinking patterns. By changing their thinking patterns, people may be able to manage or control their symptoms.3

CBT is used to treat other sleep disorders like insomnia. When it is used to treat insomnia, it is called cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia (CBT-I). Doctors have thought CBT could be used to treat hypersomnia disorders. However, until recently there were no specific techniques.4

Research on cognitive behavioral therapy for IH or narcolepsy

A 2020 study examined a CBT program used by 35 people with hypersomnia. The researchers developed a program called cognitive behavioral therapy for hypersomnia (CBT-H). The program was 6 sessions long and performed over video calls. Some sessions were individual, and others were in small groups.2

The program focused on building healthy and positive habits. Doctors believe these habits may help people control thoughts that negatively impact their sleep. Some techniques they used included:5

  • Managing any depression and anxiety from hypersomnia
  • Keeping a regular daytime and nighttime schedule
  • Improving self-efficacy, which means a person’s belief in their ability to achieve goals

The researchers found after the CBT-H program, about 40 percent of the people in the study had significant improvement in their depression symptoms. The study participants also felt a significant improvement in self-efficacy. Many described the tools they learned as useful. The program benefits were about the same for people with idiopathic hypersomnia or narcolepsy.5

The study participants also responded well to the use of video call technology. This means that video call technology may help more people access hypersomnia treatment.3

What do these findings mean?

These findings may help people with IH or narcolepsy. Currently, there are no verified programs for improving mental health challenges in people with hypersomnia disorders. These findings show CBT may be helpful for treating IH or narcolepsy.5

There are some benefits to using CBT as treatment. Unlike medicine, with CBT you may be addressing the root of a problem instead of just treating symptoms. This can be a more permanent solution and lowers the risk of becoming dependent on medicine. The downside of any CBT is that it can take a long time to feel meaningful effects. A combination of CBT-H and medicine may work best for some people.6

If you have IH, narcolepsy, or another hypersomnia disorder and would like to try CBT-H, try finding a doctor who has experience with CBT. CBT must be given by qualified doctors.5

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