Sleep is a natural process with remarkable benefits for the human body. A few benefits of sleep include muscle restoration, consolidating new learnings and memories, as well as helping to better manage stress and emotions. Good quality sleep is important for optimal function, as well as for a number of added benefits in your academic, athletic or professional performance. One tip right now is to make ‘good-quality’ sleep a priority in your busy daily schedule.
What are some common sleep problems?
> Difficulty getting to sleep – you may have significant trouble getting to sleep, causing you to be awake until the very ‘wee-hours’ of the morning. This can cause anxiety and worry because you know you have to go to work or school the next day.
> Restless sleep – you may find yourself tossing and turning in the bed due to an active mind. You may find yourself overthinking about past or upcoming events. This may result in feeling upset and stressed. You may spiral into a space of worrying about the consequences of not having a sufficient night’s sleep, yet again!
> Disrupted sleep – you may find yourself waking up multiple times throughout the night. This may result in feelings of restlessness and frustration, as you are unable to fall back into a restful sleep.
> Feeling fatigued (during the day) – you may experience fatigue, loss of energy, lack of motivation and irritability the next day. You may find yourself further worrying about your decreased levels of productivity and subsequent inability to concentrate, problem-solve or remember important tasks. Research has also found slower reaction times associated with ‘inadequate’ sleep. This may result in more mistakes or more significantly increase the risk of harm in certain situations for the individual and their loved ones. For example, slower response time when changing lanes on a busy road may just result in a motor vehicle accident.
> Nap (during the day) – you may find yourself feeling the need to nap during the day or pressing snooze well over 3 times before rolling out of bed and into the shower.
> Snoring (at night time) – you may have been told by your partner that you are snoring. This may interfere with his/her restful night sleep. It may also mean you are waking yourself up throughout the night due to the pauses in your breathing, which may end with a gasping or choking noise. The next day you may feel tired and fatigued with reduced energy levels.
> Other sleeping problems – there are a number of other sleep problems, but we included a select few of the more common sleep problems.
A few common factors causing sleeping difficulties include:
> Psychological conditions – symptoms of depression, anxiety, stress, overstimulation, or overload in your life.
> Sleep disorders – obstructive sleep apnoea, periodic limb movement disorder and restless legs syndrome.
> Medical illnesses – research indicates a number of medical diagnosis impact sleep such as gastroesophageal reflux, chronic obstructive lung disease and asthma, congestive heart failure, hot flashes, arthritis and other causes of chronic pain, benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH), urinary conditions, an overactive thyroid among a range of other illnesses.
> Neurological disorders – these may include Parkinson’s disease, strokes, and dementia.
> Stimulants – caffeine, nicotine, among others.
> Medications – you may not be aware of the side effects of some medications you are taking, therefore checking with your GP is recommended. Some medications with side effects include decongestants, bronchodilators, certain antidepressants, steroids, beta blockers and diuretics. Research has also indicated that improper use of sleeping pills can result in rebound insomnia.
There are multiple causes of sleep problems but one thing for sure is that difficulty getting to sleep and disrupted sleep throughout the night may leave you feeling frustrated, stressed, and worried about your sleep problems, which can make it even harder to fall to sleep. For some individuals, this is how the sleep-worry cycle starts.
Treatment for sleep problems:
Treatment delivered by your Psychologist usually involves a combination of the cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT) and proven sleep-hygiene techniques tailored towards the individual. Other techniques may include:
> Relaxation training – you may be introduced to deep breathing activities, progressive muscular relaxation or meditation. Research has found relaxing your mind at bedtime will help you drift off to sleep.
> Stimulus control therapy – such as going to bed only when you are sleepy. This may include no reading, watching TV, snacking, or eating 2 hours before sleep or listening to music in bed. You may need to explore getting up at the same time every day, no matter how little you have slept and avoid daytime napping where possible.
> Sleep restriction therapy – you may need to reduce your time in bed to the estimated total time you are actually asleep in an average night.
> Cognitive therapy – you will be introduced to proven techniques that allow you to replace negative thoughts about sleep to more positive compassionate thoughts such as “If I relax peacefully in bed, my body will take care of itself”.
What can I expect from seeing a Psychologist?
You can expect your Psychologist to ask a few questions to develop an understanding on the factors influencing your sleep. You might also be asked to keep a sleep monitoring diary to help provide a little more insight into your current bedtimes, wake-times, quality of sleep and other issues. With this information, the psychologist can determine the best course of action for your individual circumstances.
How Can Positive Wellbeing Psychology Help?
Our warm and caring Melbourne-based psychologists in clinical practice are available online and Australia-wide. We are experienced in evidence-based psychological treatments for sleep disorders and sleep problems including cognitive-behaviour therapy.
At Positive Wellbeing Psychology, we have a special interest in sleep hygiene and find it extremely rewarding to be working with you to improve your sleep and to achieve optimal functioning. We will explore evidence-based approaches to manage the factors that are contributing to your sleep difficulties.
To start, your Psychologist will set a nurturing and comforting environment to explore current stressors and worries as well as significant life events and changes to work or routine. As mentioned above, a sleep-diary will usually be incorporated into the therapy sessions for more chronic sleep difficulties.
What else can I do?
We also recommend you consult with your GP to obtain a referral to Positive Wellbeing Psychology, as a medical check-up allows for thorough assessment of all other possible health issue that may be affecting your sleep. Some people with sleep problems may also benefit from a combination of medication adjunct to seeing a Psychologist.