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What Causes Sleep Problems?

Most people will experience periods of being unable to sleep at some point in their lives. However, for some people not being able to sleep becomes the norm, and affects their day-to-day life.

Sleep is an essential aspect of our physical and mental functioning. It allows our body and mind to recharge and process the events of our increasingly complicated lives, leaving us feeling energised and prepared for another day. Yet, it is only when sleep becomes a problem that we realise just how important it is to our physiological and psychological health.

Sleep issues will usually involve one or more of the following:

  • Difficulty falling asleep
  • Waking in the night
  • Waking too early
  • Waking feeling unrefreshed
  • Sleepwalking
  • Recurring dreams or nightmares
  • Worries on your mind in the middle of the night 

Sleep problems affect a huge number of people and can lead to a number of physiological and psychological problems. They can also be indicative of pre-existing issues, for example, depression, anxiety and stress can all lead to problematic sleep. This can lead to a vicious cycle whereby individuals can become severely distressed due to lack of sleep, which can then prevent them from going to sleep in future, leading to depression and so on.

However, the amount of sleep a person requires varies from person to person. Whilst it is often suggested that we require eight hours of sleep per night, each individual is different – our age, diet and levels of physical and mental activity all affect how much sleep we require.

There can be many different reasons people develop sleep problems:

  • Pain
  • Worry and/or anxiety – anxiety is often expressed in our bodies, through the worrying thoughts we have and in our behaviour. When our body prepares itself for possible danger (fear of the unknown) it becomes tense and worked up – the opposite of the state we need to be in to fall asleep.
  • Depression – people who are suffering with depression often suffer with difficulty sleeping. This may take the form of not being able to get off to sleep, frequent waking during the night, or early morning wakening.
  • Disturbance of the sleep/wake cycle – people often respond to tiredness by having a nap during the day. However, while this can be a good strategy in the short term, too much sleep during the day can make it more difficult to sleep at night. If people don’t sleep well at night it makes senses that they are going to feel more tired the next day, prompting them to have an even longer nap. In time this can lead a person’s body clock to become ‘out of synch’ – their bodies expect to sleep during the day, not at night.
  • Diet – One of the most common causes of insomnia is diet. For example, drinks containing the stimulant caffeine (tea, coffee, cocoa and chocolate-based drinks) can go on working for several hours after they have been drunk, causing us to stay awake. Small amounts of alcohol also act as a stimulant while large quantities make us more depressed. Too much alcohol can cause people to wake up because as its depressive effects wear off during the night it can become more of a stimulant again.
  • Lack of physical activity – Exercise enables us to sleep better since it helps burn up the energy that we take in when we eat and any stress that we have picked up throughout the day.
  • Poor sleep hygiene – most people develop pre-sleep rituals during childhood and keep some sort of set pattern of going to bed throughout their lives (for example, watching TV, turning off the lights, going upstairs, going to the toilet, brushing teeth, reading in bed, turning the light out and finally going to sleep). If your pattern of going to bed gets disrupted you may have lost the normal cues that tell your brain that it’s time to fall asleep. Some people spend hours in bed watching television, listening to the radio or even eating. These activities can weaken the link your brain makes between being in bed and being asleep.

How Common are Sleep Difficulties?

Sleep Problems/Insomnia are more common in women than men and affect 10-15% of adults and 20% of children.

How Talking to Siobhan Can Help

As part of an individual treatment plan, Siobhan will assist you in

  • Discovering the underlying root causes of your sleeping problem
  • Examine patterns in your sleeping
  • Explore factors in your lifestyle that could exacerbate sleeping problems
  • Improve your sleep habits often referred to as ‘Sleep Hygiene’
  • Reducing anxiety by identifying, challenging and resolving the worrying thoughts that cause it
  • Reducing anxiety through relaxation and breathing techniques