Sex differences in response to cognitive behavioural therapy for insomnia: A chart review of 455 patients with chronic insomnia

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Background: Insomnia is more prevalent in females, however studies examining sex differences in response to insomnia treatment are scarce. This study assessed sex-specific differences in cognitive behavioural therapy for insomnia (CBT-I)-related changes in insomnia symptoms in a large clinical cohort. 

Methods: A chart review was conducted of a clinical cohort (females n = 305, males n = 150) referred to a sleep clinic. Participants had a registered psychologist confirm diagnosis of chronic insomnia according to DSM-IV/V criteria and a Level 1 or 2 sleep study. Daily sleep diaries and questionnaires including the Insomnia Severity Index (ISI), Flinders Fatigue Scale (FFS), the Daytime Feelings and Functioning Scale (DFFS), and the Depression, Anxiety and Stress Scale-21 items (DASS), were administered at baseline, post-treatment, and three-month follow-up. Linear mixed models determined interactions between sex and timepoint on symptoms. 

Results: Mean (SD) age was 51.7 yrs (15.7, range = 18-90 yrs), and mean BMI was 26.3 kg/m2 (4.9), neither of which differed by sex. At pre-treatment, females demonstrated higher objective total sleep time (min) [343.5 (97.6) vs 323.8 min (92.1), p = 0.044], ISI [19.7 (4.2) vs 18.6 (4.4), p = 0.033], and FFS scores [19.2 (6.0) vs 16.9 (7.2), p = 0.003]. Compared to males, females experienced a greater reduction in FFS and DFFS scores and DASS depressive symptoms (p for interaction: 0.017, 0.043, 0.016 respectively) from baseline to follow-up. The greater reduction in depressive symptoms did not persist after controlling for age, BMI, and sleep apnea severity. Subjective total sleep time similarly increased across treatment for both males [baseline: 335.7 (15.1), post: 357.9 (15.5)] and females [baseline: 318.3 (10.4), post: 354.4 (10.7)], p for interaction: 0.22. 

Conclusion: Females and males experience similar, substantial benefits from CBT-I after accounting for comorbidities, suggesting the same treatment can resolve insomnia in both sexes.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)123-128
Number of pages6
JournalSleep Medicine
Early online date1 Mar 2024
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2024


  • Behavioural therapy
  • Cognitive therapy
  • Fatigue
  • Insomnia
  • Sex differences
  • Sleep


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