Many people will experience difficulty sleeping at some point in their lives. This may be due to stress, travel, illness, welcoming a new member to the family, or other disruptions. If these sleep difficulties persist and become a more regular occurrence which then impacts on health and daily functioning, we may well be experiencing a sleeping difficulty.
Strategies to try now
There are many things that you can try to help and improve your sleep. Some of the most commonly recommended tips are:
Go to bed when you are tired and get up at the same time each morning
Avoid the temptation to make up for ‘lost sleep’ by sleeping late into the morning and if you think you have insomnia, resist the urge to nap during daytime hours
Set aside time for problem solving during the day, don’t leave this until night time hours. Identify any problems that could be causing you anxiety and try to resolve them by making decisions. Don’t lie in bed to worry. If you experience sleeplessness, get out of bed and do something distracting and relaxing, some people enjoy knitting or listening to calming music. Return to bed only when you feel sleepy again
Do not use alcohol to help you get to sleep. Although alcohol does help people to fall asleep quickly and sleep more deeply for a while, it reduces rapid eye movement (REM), the most restful kind of sleep, and therefore does not improve sleep quality
If you experience insomnia, avoid caffeinated beverages after 4pm, at the latest, and do not drink more than two cups of coffee per day
If you have trouble sleeping, do not smoke for at least an hour, or longer, before going to bed
Use the bed and bedroom for sleep and sex only. Do not work from your bed
Avoid long-term use of sleeping pills as these can create a dependency
If you sleep in a noisy place, try to reduce noise levels by closing windows and doors and/or wearing ear plugs
Ensure the place you sleep is dark. Digital clocks can be distracting, it may be useful to face the clock away from you to minimise the disturbance of their glow
Make sure all of your needs are met before getting into bed. Sleeplessness can be worsened by unmet needs such as hunger, physical pain, or having to use the toilet.
Regular exercise during the day can improve sleep patterns. Try to avoid exercise during evening hours as it can worsen sleeplessness at night
By setting a nighttime routine, you can improve your chances of falling asleep quickly. This can be as simple as washing your face and cleaning your teeth at the same time each night
Be aware of anything in your environment that may be disturbing your sleep. For example, if your pets become restless during the night or prevent you from moving freely on your bed
Sleep difficulties are incredibly common and are said to affect 33-45% of Australian adults
What types of sleep disorders are there?
Sleep disorders have been categorised into specific areas, they include:
‘I wake often during the night and then feel unrefreshed in the morning and sleepy by midday’
Insomnia is a sleep disorder that causes people to find it difficult to fall asleep, stay asleep through the night, or wake up in the morning. As the most common sleep difficulty, insomnia is often experienced along with stress, depression or anxiety. It is essential to determine the underlying factors that may be causing, or contributing to insomnia.
“I fall asleep when I least expect to”
Narcolepsy is a sleep disorder characterised by extreme tiredness and causes people to fall asleep during the day. Narcolepsy often results in the sudden, and involuntary, onset of napping.
Periodic limb movement disorder
“I awake frequently through the night following leg movements and then feel so tired during the day”
Periodic limb movement disorder results in frequent movement and spasms of the legs throughout the night, Many people wake themselves with the movements, though others are told about the movements by their bed partners.
“My legs are so uncomfortable and the urge to move them is uncontrollable”
Restless leg syndrome causes a cramp like irritation in the lower legs which creates a powerful urge to move. Although repositioning offers temporary relief from the sensation, the feelings often return with great frequency. Restless leg syndrome typically occurs most notably in the night time hours.
“I feel like my sleep is stolen from me”
Snoring is the hoarse sound of heavy breathing while asleep. It is important to rule out allergies, links to alcohol or other substances, high blood pressure and heart disease, among other health concerns, when experiencing snoring that causes you to lose sleep.
“I awake quickly, trying to catch my breath and gasping”
Sleep apnoea is a sleep disorder that causes breathing to occur in stops and starts. As the quality of sleep is not restful, the morning can bring with it a dry mouth, headache, difficulty paying attention during the day and extreme sleepiness.
People may mistakenly view those with social anxiety as shy, disinterested or even rude when in fact it is fear that keeps them from engaging the way they would like to.
Getting Professional Help
Evidence based treatments make the biggest difference.
The good news is that there are a number of very effective treatments now available for sleeping difficulties. These include various medications and psychological treatments. Scientifically, the best studied and most demonstrated techniques include medications such as SSRIs and the psychological techniques often referred to as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT).
Talking with your GP is the best place to make a start. They can assist you to get help for yourself or someone you care about. After talking about your symptoms and the situation you are in, the GP will direct you to a psychologist near you who specialises in the area that you need. You’re also welcome to call us for a chat: (02) 9906 5199.
Frequently Asked Questions
Some simple facts to help you understand sleeping disorders and how you can best manage them.
Risks factors for a sleeping difficulty or sleep disorder
The most common risk factors for developing a sleeping difficulty include:
Being over the age of 60
Having a chronic disease, or being in pain
Taking certain medications that interrupt sleep
Having anxiety, depression or long-term stress
Routine exposure to blue light in the hours just before bed time
Travel across time zones
A poor sleep environment
Night shift work
Eating too much late in the evening
How common are sleep difficulties and sleep disorders?
Sleep difficulties are incredibly common and are said to affect 33-45% of Australian adults.
Life after a sleeping difficulty or sleep disorder
Behavioural therapy is one approach that can be helpful to people with sleep difficulties. It is possible to adjust lifestyle and behavioural factors that are contributing to a sleep difficulty in order to regain routinely peaceful nights of sleep.
Myths About Sleeping Difficulties and Sleep Disorders
``The older you get, the fewer hours of sleep you require``
Anxiety Myth 1
``Medication is the only way to overcome anxiety``
Sleep Disorders Myth 2
``Social anxiety is the same as being shy``
Anxiety Myth 3
``Someone with anxiety should avoid any situation that might cause them stress``