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Are you having trouble sleeping?

November 14, 2022

We all have restless nights now and again. Factors like stress, pain, worry, the temperature in our bedroom and what we’ve eaten or drunk can all have an effect on how well we sleep. Some people regularly have problems with their sleep, however, and this is known as insomnia. Chronic insomnia is when these problems continue over a prolonged period of time. Insomnia is thought to affect around two billion people, according to research from the World Sleep Society (WSS).

Some people with insomnia have trouble getting off to sleep, while others drop off  okay and then wake up frequently during the night, or wake up too early and can’t get back to sleep. It’s possible for the same person to experience all of these difficulties at various times.

Not getting enough rest can have a significant impact on our life and our mental health. As well as leaving us tired and lacking in energy, we can become more irritable and easily upset, and find it harder to concentrate and remember things. In the long term a lack of sleep can negatively impact how well we function, as well as our mental health. It can even contribute to physical health problems such as obesity, type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure.

People with insomnia often experience a ‘vicious cycle’. If someone is under lots of pressure at work, for example, they may find this has an impact on their sleep. They feel tired, but as soon as they lie down their mind starts whirring. They then worry about not getting enough sleep, and have negative thoughts such as: “If I’m tired tomorrow I won’t be able to perform well enough to get everything done.” The more anxious they become the harder it is to sleep.

Improving your sleep hygiene. Sometimes, making some small changes in the bedroom environment and around your sleep-related habits can help you get a better night’s rest.

Go to bed and get up at the same time – even at the weekends. Having a routine is good. Avoid sleeping in the daytime, or just stick to a short nap.

Don’t work or watch TV in bed, so your mind comes to associate your bed only with sleeping.

Avoid stimulants late in the afternoon or evening – including caffeinated drinks such as energy drinks, tea, coffee and cola, and also nicotine. Be aware that alcohol can affect the quality of your sleep.

Keep a notebook by your bed, so if you wake up worrying or suddenly remembering something you can write it down and (hopefully) go back to sleep.

Make sure you’re not too full or too hungry when you go to bed.

While keeping active through the day can help you to sleep, don’t exercise too close to bedtime.

Turn off the TV, tablet or phone an hour before bedtime. These are stimulating activities that can keep your brain awake! Swap them for relaxing ones such as having a bath or listening to calming music.

If you haven’t dropped off after 30 minutes then get up, do something else relaxing until you feel sleepy, then try going back to bed.

Above all, try not to obsess over not being able to sleep; if you become too focused on the problem it can end up overshadowing other things in your life and even become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

If you’ve tried all these things and you’re still experiencing insomnia, you might benefit from trying cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). This can help people with a sleep issue, either as part of treatment for anxiety or depression or by tackling it as a stand-alone problem. In CBT sessions, the therapist will work with the individual to formulate what your own unique vicious cycle looks like.

You’ll then work together on a strategy for changing your beliefs, thoughts and behaviours around sleep. This could involve testing out new behaviours at home in between sessions to help break the cycle.

For instance, someone might believe that if they can’t sleep they need to stay in bed and keep trying. This is likely to make them focus even more on the fact that they’re having problems. They can test this belief by getting up if they haven’t fallen asleep within half an hour and doing something else, then coming back to bed when they feel sleepy.

Find out more about how cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) works as a treatment for sleep problems here. If you’d like to refer yourself for online CBT with ieso, you can get started by registering here.

ieso Online Therapy
This blog has been written by a member of the clinical team at ieso.
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