Insomnia and sleeping disorders
• Insomnia is a symptom underlying other issues, most commonly emotional stresses such as anxiety, depression or grief, or physical stresses such as pain.
• Insomnia can be transient, generally lasting only a short time and clearly linked to a specific cause, or Chronic, lasting months if not years.
• Tips for better sleeping include avoiding food stimulants and learning relaxation techniques, but a professional counsellor, psychologist or medical practitioner can help you to identify the causes of your insomnia and sleep better.
Adults like to get about 8 hours sleep each night, so when that sleep is disturbed, or you have trouble getting off to sleep in the first place, then life can start to get your down. Insomnia (otherwise known as sleeplessness) is a sleeping condition where people either have trouble getting to sleep, or have trouble staying asleep. It can be exhausting, frustrating and depressing, causing you to worry at night, and lack energy during the day. And not uncommonly, the frustration and worry caused by insomnia conditions people to worry more, and sleep even less.
Counsellors and psychologists generally agree that there are two broad types of insomnia or sleep disorders:
Transient Insomnia: The first is Transient Insomnia, which as its name suggests tends to last for only a short time, and tends to be specifically related or caused by a particular stressful event, for example, a difficult work project, an exam, a wedding or a death.
Chronic Insomnia: The second is Chronic Insomnia, which might last for months or even years, and may attack most nights.
Insomnia is easy to pick, because you know when you are not sleeping well. You probably also notice that you are tired during the day, and you may feel restless, irritable, or even depressed. You probably wake up feeling tired, lack concentration, and you may suffer from headaches. Many people with insomnia find themselves unable to get to sleep (or stay asleep) without the aid of a sleeping tablet.
What causes insomnia?
Insomnia is a symptom, rather than a disorder in and of itself, and there are myriad causes.
Most commonly, insomnia is caused by your state of mind – anxiety, worry, grief or depression, or by pain caused by an accident or illness. Other causes of sleeplessness include certain medical conditions (including sleep aponea), the use of recreational drugs, caffeine, jetlag, or the impact of your physical environment – it might be too noisy, or the weather might be affecting your capacity to sleep well.
Pinpointing the cause of your insomnia is the first step to getting help, and getting help from the right source. Fixing your insomnia might require the help of a counsellor or psychologist (if the problem relates to your mood, anxiety or pain management), or a medical practitioner (if the insomnia is being caused by a physical illness), but there are a few steps that anyone can take to improve their sleep.
Tips to help you sleep better
1. Make sure your physical environment is comfortable and suitable for a good night’s sleep. Check that your mattress is in good condition, and that you have an appropriate pillow. If your room is hot, get a fan. If you room is cold, improve on your heating. Use earplugs if noise is a problem, or get thicker curtains or a blindfold to block out the light.
2. Consider cutting down on stimulants like coffee, alcohol and junk food, especially nearer to bedtime. Stay away from high-carb meals at dinnertime. Exercise regularly and try to keep regular hours. Avoid catnaps during the day, and take a warm bath before bed.
3. If you suffer from anxiety or worry, try these suggestions: write a list of all the things you need to do the next day, learn to meditate or try breathing exercises or other relaxation techniques. A counsellor or psychologist can help you with more practical tips and also help you understand the cause of your anxiety.
4. Look out for signs of depression. Sometimes depression causes insomnia, and other times long-standing insomnia will make you depressed. It is important to recognize depression so that you can seek professional help. Click here to take our simple depression test.
Your GP might prescribe sleeping pills to help you sleep. This will undoubtedly help you rest, but is rarely a solution, especially if your insomnia is chronic. Consult your doctor so that you are aware of the side-effects, and try to use this method irregularly or with the support of a counsellor.
Sleep apnoea is a sleeping disorder caused by the walls of the throat coming together during sleep, causing the sleeper to stop breathing for minutes at a time. This cessation of breath causes the person to have a restless sleep, effectively waking up countless times during the night in order to breath again. People with sleep apnoea rarely know that they have the disorder and will rarely describe themselves as insomniacs. Instead, symptoms such as lack of concentration, tiredness and irritability lead people to consult their physician. A doctor can conduct a simple overnight test known as a polysomnogram. Some of the lifestyle changes described above can help repair sleep apnoea, or sufferers can wear a specially-designed mask while sleeping to aid breathing.
Sometimes, sleep issues or insomnia is caused by the underlying stress caused by anger, particularly if your anger is ‘bottled up’. A counsellor can help you work through your anger issues and allow you to lead a calmer life and sleep better.
It’s hard to know whether playing a game with yourself will stimulate your mind, or help you relax, but there must be some strength to the old adage “counting sleep”. Try recalling a painting or place in fine detail, or send your mind over your body, noticing every part of yourself. Visualise yourself in a field, or resting on a cloud. Try counting sheep.
Getting professional help
If your insomnia is getting the better of you, try seeking professional help. A counsellor or psychologist is trained to work through issues of anxiety, stress, anger or grief, and can offer you practical as well as emotional solutions to help you sleep better. Contact Associated Counselors & Psychologists today.
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