A sleep problem is an ongoing difficulty in getting enough sleep so that you feel able to function well during waking hours. Sleep problems are very common, with a recent study showing that up to one in three adults claim to have difficulties sleeping. Greater incidences of sleep problems have been found in women, children, and the elderly.
A sleep problem is an ongoing difficulty in getting enough sleep so that you feel able to function well during waking hours.
Sleep problems are very common, with a recent study showing that up to one in three adults claim to have difficulties sleeping. Greater incidences of sleep problems have been found in women, children, and the elderly.
While we have all experienced poor sleep during times of extreme stress, suffering from a few nights of missed sleep before returning back to a normal sleeping pattern is not a sign of a sleep problem.
You do not have to suffer from insomnia to have a sleep problem. Insomnia is just one of a number of issues that fall under the umbrella of 'sleep problems.'
Getting to sleep: This issue is commonly known as ‘insomnia.’ An individual will commonly lie awake instead of sleeping, or you may be unable to sleep during the hours allotted but find yourself wanting to sleep during daytime hours instead.
Staying asleep: This can mean waking up one or several times during the night, having trouble falling back to sleep again, and/or waking up much earlier than desired.
Quality of sleep: Always feeling tired no matter how much sleep you may get, or tossing and turning often in bed.
Schedule of sleep: Even though you may be able to sleep, it is at hours when everyone else is asleep. This may affect your ability to hold down a job or otherwise live a normal life.
The sign of a general sleep problem can include the following:
The above symptoms include the signs of the common sleep disorder insomnia. Sometimes divided into difficulty falling asleep (sleep-onset insomnia) and difficulty staying asleep (sleep maintenance insomnia), it is, in general, the inability to get enough sleep to feel rested during your waking hours.
There are other sleep disorders besides insomnia. These tend to be more genetic and brain-based than regular sleep problems, which have more marked symptoms and can be stress and anxiety-related.
1. Sleep apnoea: This involves issues with your upper airways, meaning you can sporadically stop breathing while sleeping and suddenly wake up.
It is important if you suspect that you have sleep apnoea you seek help, as it can be life-threatening. It is easily treatable with a mask that monitors airflow.
2. Restless leg syndrome: This is a recognised neurological condition connected to an imbalance of dopamine in the brain.
3. Narcolepsy: This is a disorder where the part of your brain that regulates sleep is dysfunctional, so you experience uncontrollable sleepiness in the daytime.
4. Idiopathic hypersomnia: This involves excessive oversleeping or sleepiness with no explainable cause, but is a different condition from Narcolepsy.
5. Delayed sleep phase disorder: This involves having an inner ‘sleep clock’ on a very different setting than those of others.
Many people often think they have a sleep problem just because they don’t sleep for eight hours a night.
It is not true that we all need eight hours sleep.
There are no specific rules about sleep, other than that you can tell if you get enough by how refreshed and clear-minded you feel during the daytime. In general, you require less sleep the older you get. Babies sleep up to seventeen hours per day and an older person may need less than six hours. This also depends on how active you are.
If you are sleeping few hours but feel energised the next day, you don’t have a sleep problem.
It is also not true that just because stress has temporarily disrupted your sleep patterns that you now have a sleep problem. If you are experiencing a challenging few weeks, such as starting a new job or moving house, it is normal to have temporarily disturbed sleep. Try improving your sleep hygiene (see the ‘Treatment’ section below for more information) and see if your sleep returns to normal before assuming you have an issue. A sleep problem is ongoing, and diagnosis generally requires that the issues have persisted for at least a month.
If you have a sleep ‘disorder,’ it can be related to the way your brain works and might, therefore, be biological and genetic.
Or, your problems with sleep can be physical and related to another health condition you are unaware of. For example, your hormones are going through changes or medication you are taking is affecting your sleeping pattern.
Sleep problems are frequently environmental – caused by other factors going on in elsewhere your life. When life becomes challenging, many of us tend to worry instead of sleep, and this anxiety can flood our bodies with cortisol that makes it even harder to relax.
If we are stressing about sleep itself, we can often end up creating a sleep problem or exacerbating an existing sleep problem. For example, if you are worried because you aren’t getting the apparently ‘normal’ eight hours sleep per night and believe something is wrong, this worry itself can lead to poor sleep at night.
If your troubles with sleep are persistent and ongoing to the extent that they are negatively affecting our work and relationships; if you have had insomnia for four or more weeks; and/or if you have trued general sleep advice (such as that listed below) with no improvement, then it’s a good idea to consult your General Practitioner.
Your GP can ask you a series of question and possibly run different health checks to determine what might be at the root of your issues with sleep, and whether it might be a medical condition or related to another health problem.
If you have any symptoms of a sleep disorder such as snoring and gasping in your sleep and waking up unable to breathe or falling asleep during daily activities such as driving that ultimately may place you in constant danger, it is important to make an appointment with your GP as soon as possible.
Your GP may begin by discussing good sleep hygiene with you to identify any practical steps that can be taken to resolve the sleeping problems you feel you are experiencing. These steps can include:
They might give you a short-term prescription for sleeping pills, but this is not a preferred treatment for sleeping problems in the UK and they are not recommended for long-term use.
If your insomnia appears anxiety and mood-related they might refer you for Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) to help change thoughts and behaviours that are contributing to your inability to sleep.
Your GP may refer you to a sleep clinic or pass your case on to a sleep specialist if they suspect you have a sleep disorder or feel you require some form of treatment.
Psychological issues, such as depression and anxiety, are commonly associated with the development of sleep problems. It can often be difficult to pinpoint which developed first, as insomnia can result in anxiety and depression.
Low moods and insomnia can become interlinked. For example, mild depression may cause sleeplessness which then leads to more depression and anxiety as it’s harder to manage your moods if you are exhausted. It is therefore important to treat the sleep problem and the anxiety and/or depression.
Other related psychological issues to sleep problems include:
Your GP or mental health professional can help you investigate and identify if psychological issues are causing your sleep problems.
Good sleep plays an important role in maintaining our cognitive functioning, regulating our moods, and boosting our immune system. A lack of sleep can affect our daily functioning, leading to mood swings, depression, relationship issues, increased risk of cold and flu, and general feelings of ill health and exhaustion.
Lack of sleep can lead to premature ageing. Extra cortisol is released within the body if you are not gaining enough sleep, which leads to a break down of collagen and a spike in blood pressure. Your body may also struggle to release enough growth hormone needed for healthy bone density and muscle mass.
Poor sleep can lead to obesity. Studies have shown a relationship between sleeping and the production of peptides. This is the chemical that regulates our appetite. If you don't sleep enough you might lose the proper body response that tells you when you are satiated, leaving you susceptible to overeating.
The NHS Better Sleep
NHS Scotland Guide to Sleep
The Sleep Council's Good Night Guide
helpguide.org Sleep Pages
Counsellors and psychotherapists can help you to understand your sleep issues and treat any related issues such as depression or anxiety.
You can book therapy for sleep problems online with leading psychotherapists and counsellors at times and costs that suit you, with a harleytherapy.com therapist. Therapists are available online, by phone and face-to-face.
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