What is Sleep Restriction Therapy?

Andreas Meistad@s profile picture
Andreas Meistad
Jan 9, 20234 min read

What is Sleep Restriction Therapy?

Sleep restriction therapy is a treatment approach for insomnia that involves limiting the time spent in bed to the actual amount of time spent sleeping. The goal of this therapy is to increase sleep efficiency, which is the percentage of time spent in bed that is actually spent sleeping. By reducing the time spent awake in bed, the individual is able to associate the bed with sleep, rather than with sleeplessness and frustration.

What are the steps?

There are several steps involved in sleep restriction therapy. The first step is to determine the individual's current sleep schedule and sleep efficiency. This is typically done using a sleep diary, where the individual records the time they go to bed, the time they fall asleep, the time they wake up, and any time spent awake during the night. The sleep diary can also include information about napping, caffeine and alcohol consumption, and any medications are taken.

Once the current sleep schedule and sleep efficiency have been established, the therapist will work with the individual to set a sleep schedule that is appropriate for their needs. This may involve setting a consistent bedtime and wake time, as well as limiting the time spent in bed to the actual amount of time spent sleeping. For example, if an individual has a sleep efficiency of 70%, and they typically spend 8 hours in bed each night, they would only be allowed to spend 5.6 hours in bed (8 x .7 = 5.6).

It is important to note that sleep restriction therapy is not about depriving the individual of sleep. Rather, it is about finding the right balance between sleep and wakefulness. The therapist will work with the individual to gradually increase the time spent in bed as their sleep efficiency improves.

One of the key components of sleep restriction therapy is the use of a stimulus control technique. This involves making the bed and bedroom a place for sleep only, and avoiding activities such as watching television, using the computer, or reading in bed. It is also important to avoid napping during the day, as this can disrupt the sleep-wake cycle and make it more difficult to fall asleep at night.

Another important aspect of sleep restriction therapy is relaxation training. This may involve techniques such as progressive muscle relaxation, deep breathing, or visualization. The goal of relaxation training is to help the individual reduce their level of arousal and anxiety, which can interfere with sleep.

It is also important to address any underlying issues that may be contributing to the individual's insomnia, such as stress, depression, or medical conditions. The therapist may recommend additional treatment approaches, such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) or medication, to address these issues.

Sleep restriction therapy is typically administered by a trained sleep specialist, such as a psychologist or physician. It is generally recommended for individuals with chronic insomnia, although it may also be useful for those with more short-term sleep problems.


Overall, sleep restriction therapy is a highly effective treatment approach for insomnia, with research showing that it can significantly improve sleep efficiency and reduce the severity of insomnia symptoms. It is a safe and non-invasive treatment option, and is generally well-tolerated by individuals. If you are struggling with insomnia and are interested in trying sleep restriction therapy, it is important to consult with a trained sleep specialist to determine if it is the right treatment approach for you.

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Andreas Meistad@s profile picture
Andreas Meistad

Therapist specializing in applying CBT principles for the treatment of insomnia.

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