Insomnia and Sleep Problems

What is generically referred to as ‘a good night’s sleep’ differs from person to person. For optimal brain function, some people need 8 hours of sleep a night, while others can subsist on much less. Regardless, your brain requires a specific number of hours sleep to restore and maintain itself as well as to enhance your neural connectivity. It is common to experience some variation in sleep patterns from time to time, however ongoing sleep difficulties that leave you feeling tired and exhausted can be debilitating and can affect multiple areas of your life.

What is Insomnia?

Insomnia is more common than most people think, with at least 1 in 3 adults experiencing it at some point in their lifetime. Insomnia can present itself in a series of different ways, and if it continues it can have a very negative impact on your life.

Insomnia symptoms may include:

  • Difficulty falling asleep at night
  • Waking up during the night
  • Waking up too early
  • Not feeling well-rested after a night’s sleep
  • Daytime tiredness or sleepiness
  • Irritability, depression or anxiety
  • Difficulty paying attention, focusing on tasks or remembering
  • Increased errors or accidents
  • Ongoing worries about sleep

Common causes of poor sleeping and insomnia include:

  • Increased stress
  • Depression
  • Anxiety and excessive worry
  • Postnatal depression and anxiety
  • Postraumatic stress
  • Changes in sleep patterns (e.g. due to ageing)
  • Sleep related disorders (e.g. sleep apnoea)
  • Changes in health (e.g. chronic pain)

Nearly everyone has an occasional sleepless night. But your risk of insomnia is greater if:

  • You’re a woman. Hormonal shifts during the menstrual cycle and in menopause may play a role. During menopause, night sweats and hot flashes often disrupt sleep. Insomnia is also common with pregnancy.
  • You’re over age 60. Because of changes in sleep patterns and health, insomnia increases with age.
  • You have a mental health disorder or physical health condition. Many issues that impact your mental or physical health can disrupt sleep.
  • You’re under a lot of stress. Stressful times and events can cause temporary insomnia. And major or long-lasting stress can lead to chronic insomnia.
  • You don’t have a regular schedule. For example, changing shifts at work or traveling can disrupt your sleep-wake cycle.

How is insomnia treated?

Treating insomnia depends on the underlying cause of the sleeping difficulties. Generally, psychologists treat insomnia using the following approaches:

  • Teaching good sleep habits, referred to as sleep hygiene
  • Mindfulness to improve present moment focus and help you ‘let go’ of unhelpful thoughts
  • Relaxation strategies to reduce physiological arousal
  • Tackling unhelpful thoughts contributing to anxiety and insomnia (e.g. “If I don’t get enough sleep tonight, my day tomorrow will be ruined” or “Now that I am awake, “I will never fall back asleep again”).

If you would like more information or to book an appointment with one of our clinical psychologists, contact us.