It’s rare to meet someone who doesn’t have the odd restless night. Stress, temperature and even some types of food and drink can affect our ability to get a good night’s sleep. But if you find yourself regularly lying awake, waking up too early, or feeling exhausted even after a full eight hours, it may be time to start looking at your sleep health, especially if your lack of sleep is impacting negatively on your everyday life
Sleep problems – often called 'insomnia' – can feel like a never-ending vicious cycle. A poor night’s sleep can not only leave you tired and lacking energy during the day, sleep deprivation can also affect your mood, making you grumpy and irritable. This overtiredness and stress can then lead to more sleepless nights, as well as to anxiety around getting a better night’s sleep, which in turn can then make it even harder to drop off. When this continues over a period of time, it can begin to take a toll on your health, work performance and quality of life.
How much sleep is enough varies from person to person, but most adults need seven to eight hours a night. Sleepless nights are not something you have to put up with. Simple changes in your daily habits can often help.
Sleep problems affect people in different ways. You may find that you regularly experience just one of these sleep issues, or possibly a mixture over time. Either way, the most common sleep complaints are:
We all know someone who can fall asleep as soon as their head hits the pillow. Most of us wish we could. Sleep professionals recommend that a good, healthy time to fall asleep is anywhere up to 30 minutes. Yet some people find that it can take much longer than this to drift off, sometimes lying awake for hours and suffering as a result when the alarm goes off.
Some people have no trouble falling asleep but find they can’t achieve a particularly good night’s sleep once they do. This is either because they wake up repeatedly in the night for short periods, or because they wake up in the middle of the night and are then unable to fall back asleep again for hours.
Some people find that no matter what they do, their bodies seem to wake them up before dawn and won’t let them fall back asleep. While some might see this as useful, it’s usually unwelcome in those it affects. Starting the day so early often leads sufferers to ‘crash’ later in the morning and to fall asleep earlier in the evening, creating a cycle that’s hard to break.
Insomnia may be the primary problem, or it may be associated with other mental health conditions. Chronic insomnia is usually a result of stress, life events or habits that disrupt sleep. Treating the underlying cause can resolve the insomnia, but sometimes it can last for years.
Sleep issues and mental wellbeing are very closely linked. A continued lack of sleep can affect your emotional wellbeing, while certain mental health problems can cause problems falling or staying asleep. So it’s no surprise that one of the most common issues that people being treated for a mental health disorder complain about is trouble sleeping or always feeling tired.
Sleep helps our brains and bodies to recharge. While we’re asleep we go through a series of sleep cycles and our brains run through a number of processes that are necessary to help us function effectively during the day. Without sleep, our ability to think rationally and to regulate our emotions is compromised, potentially increasing the effects of a mental health disorder or our risk of developing one.
At the same time, some common mental health disorders such as depression or anxiety can cause sleep problems. People with anxiety may spend a long time struggling to fall asleep due to excessive worrying, while many people with depression also experience insomnia or sleeping too much.
The link between mental health and sleep issues means that treating one issue often has a positive effect on the other.
Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) helps you look at and understand how your thoughts and actions affect the way that you feel or deal with certain situations. CBT has been proven to be very effective at treating sleep issues and disorders, as it helps you confront the root of the problem. The cognitive (thinking) part of CBT helps you control or eliminate negative thoughts and actions that keep you awake, and in their place promotes more positive and realistic thoughts and behaviours. If necessary, CBT also eliminates the cycle that can develop where you worry so much about getting to sleep that you can't fall asleep.
CBT has a strong focus on developing good relaxation techniques that can help relieve tension and minimise sleep anxiety, preparing you for better sleep. It will also help you identify any changes you can make to improve your sleeping habits.
The behavioural aspect of CBT is about identifying any negative behaviours or lifestyle habits that may be impacting your sleep. Behaviours such as watching TV in bed or drinking caffeine too late in the day could all be affecting your ability to drift off and achieve quality sleep.
CBT teaches you new techniques that can be used in many different scenarios to help you develop better sleeping habits that can be used for life.