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How can a Psychologist help with sleep issues or anxiety around sleep?

Sleep Therapy and CBT-I with a Psychologist

Psychologists can help individuals with sleep problems in a variety of ways. In fact, psychologists can play an important role in helping individuals identify and treat the underlying causes of their sleep problems, and develop effective strategies to promote better sleep.

Here are some common ways that psychologists approach sleep issues:

  1. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Insomnia (CBT-I): This is a type of therapy that helps individuals identify and change negative thoughts and beliefs that may be interfering with their sleep. It also helps individuals develop good sleep habits and behaviours, such as sticking to a regular sleep schedule and practising relaxation techniques.
  2. Relaxation techniques: Psychologists may teach relaxation techniques like progressive muscle relaxation or deep breathing exercises to help reduce anxiety and promote relaxation before bedtime.
  3. Sleep hygiene education: Psychologists can help individuals understand the importance of good sleep hygiene practices, such as avoiding caffeine and alcohol before bedtime, creating a comfortable sleep environment, and avoiding stimulating activities before bedtime.
  4. Biofeedback: This involves using sensors to monitor physiological changes in the body, such as heart rate or muscle tension, and then teaching the individual how to control those changes to promote relaxation and improve sleep. At our clinic, our psychologists do not provide Biofeedback.
  5. Medication management: In some cases, psychologists may work closely with prescribing General Practitioners or Psychiatrists to manage medication for sleep issues.

What is the common therapy approaches used in CBT-I?

CBT-I, or Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Insomnia, is a structured, evidence-based psychological treatment for individuals experiencing difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep. The techniques below can be used alone or in combination, depending on the individual’s specific sleep difficulties and needs.

Some examples of CBT-I techniques include:

  1. Sleep hygiene education: This includes education about healthy sleep habits such as avoiding stimulants before bedtime, creating a comfortable sleep environment, and establishing a consistent sleep schedule.
  2. Stimulus control therapy: This involves learning to associate the bed and bedroom with sleep and relaxation, rather than with wakefulness or anxiety.
  3. Sleep restriction therapy: This involves limiting the amount of time spent in bed to the actual time spent sleeping, to increase overall sleep efficiency and reduce the time spent lying awake in bed.
  4. Relaxation training: This includes learning various relaxation techniques, such as deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, or guided imagery, to help reduce anxiety and promote relaxation before bedtime.
  5. Cognitive restructuring: This involves identifying and challenging negative or unhelpful thoughts and beliefs about sleep, and replacing them with more realistic or adaptive thoughts and beliefs.

Why is it so important to sort out my sleep problems?

As I sit up in the middle of the night, I started to ponder why. We’ll, sleep is a critical component of overall health and well-being, with numerous benefits for physical, mental, and emotional functioning. Overall, getting adequate and high-quality sleep is essential for optimal health, functioning, and well-being.

Often sleep difficulties start around a particular time that involved a life change or transition; perhaps increased stress or perhaps lack of balance that has led to possible burnout. This is all explored in sessions with a highly skilled psychologist and often involves a sleep diary to gain a really thorough insight into what exactly is going on in your life outside of therapy. This may involve factors you’re unaware of being impactful to sleep – so this sleep diary will inform the therapy session for you and the psychologist when reaching out to one of our psychologists at Positive Wellbeing Psychology.

Some of the key importance of sleep are:

  1. Physical health: Sleep helps support the immune system, repair and regenerate tissues and cells, and promote healthy growth and development. This is often why professional athletes focus on sleep management as it ensures their bodies at able to reach optimal performance in sport.
  2. Mental health: Sleep is essential for maintaining cognitive function, attention, and memory consolidation. It also plays a critical role in regulating mood and emotional processing, and lack of sleep can increase the risk of developing anxiety and depression.
  3. Performance and productivity: Getting adequate sleep has been linked to improved performance and productivity in a range of domains, including academic and work-related tasks.
  4. Safety: Sleep deprivation has been linked to an increased risk of accidents and injuries, particularly in high-risk settings such as driving or operating heavy machinery. This will depend on your exposure to high risk settings, but this is one factor to be really mindful of when working in factory settings or building sites (only to name the first few that pop into my mind!).
  5. Quality of life: Sleep is an important factor in overall quality of life, with poor sleep quality or quantity associated with decreased overall life satisfaction and decreased ability to engage in daily activities.

Written by Psychologist Emily Burton at Positive Wellbeing Psychology

Emily’s clients have described her as warm and genuine in her approach and often describe feelings of comfort and trust very early on in therapy. Emily’s bubbly and friendly nature tends to establish a warm and genuine professional relationship that fosters trust and comfort for her clients, which she believes is paramount in order to achieve successful therapy.

Emily has a special interest in working with her clients to achieve their career aspirations, improve their relationships, and to better manage difficult family dynamics. Emily is experienced in the management of anxiety, depression, low self-worth, stress and burnout, work addiction, loss of direction in life, goal setting, perfectionism, low self-esteem, adjustment to life changes, Adult ADHD, poor body image and binge eating disorder.

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