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Are you having trouble falling asleep, waking up during the night, or waking up early in the morning? Insomnia is a common problem, but there is help available. Here we explain what sleep disorders are and how they can be treated.

What is insomnia?

Sleep problems are very common. About a third of people in the UK suffer from insomnia. It often means that you have trouble falling asleep, waking up at night or waking up early in the morning. You may worry a lot and sleep problems are often linked to other mental health problems. Sleeping badly every now and then is not a problem, but if you regularly have trouble sleeping, it may be a good idea to seek help.

We spend approximately a third of our lives asleep and it is important we get good quality sleep to feel good. Many people with sleep problems start to worry a lot about their sleep and fall into a bad pattern. They may feel tired, have difficulty concentrating and become easily irritated.

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Why do people have insomnia?

The reasons for sleep problems can vary. During crises, people often experience sleep problems for a short period of time, but it can also be triggered by general stress in everyday life. Sleep problems are also common if you have neuropsychiatric problems such as ADHD, have young children or are going through the menopause. There are also other mental health conditions, such as bipolar disorder or dementia, where sleep problems are common.

If you sleep badly at least 3 days a week and have done so for at least three months, you may develop insomnia, which is the diagnosis for more severe sleep problems. It can be treated and below is more about how you can get help.

How much sleep do you need?

For people with sleep problems, the question of how much they have slept is often very important. You may be counting hours, worrying and watching the clock. You can become preoccupied with sleep. The amount of sleep each person needs is individual and can vary between 6-9 hours per night.

We all have an internal clock that regulates our sleep rhythm and when you have sleep problems you are often not in your natural rhythm. Part of the treatment for sleep problems is about finding this rhythm again, but it is also important to remember that the body can adjust its own sleep. If you sleep badly one night, your body can regulate it so that you sleep more deeply the next night. So there is no need to worry too much.

Insomnia in children

Difficulty sleeping is quite common among children, and these difficulties can have different causes. They can vary in form and intensity depending on the child’s age and stage of development. Other factors include changes in the environment, stress and anxiety, medical conditions or overstimulation before bedtime. This can include difficulty falling asleep, night-time awakenings, nightmares and night terrors. Young children may also have difficulty falling asleep at bedtime. It is less common but does occur with sleepwalking and sleep apnea. If the problems are regular and affect everyday life, it may be a good idea to seek professional help.

Insomnia in parents

For most people, having a baby is a big change and a period where sleep quality is affected. A period of poor sleep is not dangerous, although it can be distressing, and about 20% of parents experience chronic sleep problems. Sleep problems are common for mothers during the final stages of pregnancy, and once the baby arrives it may sleep restlessly and continue to affect the mother’s sleep. They may also have difficulty adjusting to the change.

Some tips include, trying to rest when the baby is sleeping during the day, share the responsibility if you are two parents, seek support from others close to you, try to accept the situation as it is and find other opportunities for recovery such as a walk, coffee with a friend or yoga. If sleep is affected a lot during the toddler years, you need to get support. If you are very concerned, you can seek treatment from a psychologist or a child healthcare provider.

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Symptoms of insomnia

Sleep problems are common, but if you sleep poorly, you may find it very difficult. Often the body can regulate how much sleep you need; if you sleep little one night, you can sleep more deeply the next night. The body is amazing that way, so you shouldn’t worry too much if you have sleep problems. But if you have symptoms of sleep deprivation, it can manifest itself like this:

  • Fatigue during the day.
  • Sleep deprivation can lead to anxiety and depression.
  • Problems falling asleep, waking up frequently during the night or early in the morning.
  • Mood swings and memory problems.

Diagnosis of insomnia

If you have had sleep problems for a long time, you may have developed insomnia, which is the diagnosis for more severe sleep problems. It comes in different degrees of severity, from mild to severe problems. It is possible to get help and treatment. Insomnia means that you have:

  1. Difficulty falling asleep and/or waking up often and/or waking up too early in the morning.
  2. You function less well during the day.
  3. You are dissatisfied with your sleep and suffer from sleep problems.
  4. Having sleep problems at least three nights per week on average.
  5. You have had these problems for at least three months.

Treatment for sleep problems and insomnia

There are both medical and psychological treatments that can be effective for people with sleep problems. Psychological treatment includes tools and strategies specifically designed to treat sleep problems that have been shown in research to be effective. A psychological treatment lasts between 4-8 sessions, depending on the severity of the problem and whether you also need to work on another problem such as stress. Anxiety is treated during sleep therapy, as there is often a lot of anxiety associated with sleep. When treating sleep problems, it has been seen that other symptoms such as depression also improve. Treatment for sleep problems include:

  • Cognitive behavioural therapy for sleep problems (CBT)
    CBT for sleep problems is an evidence-based method for improving sleep quality and reducing daytime fatigue. During treatment, you may complete a sleep diary and work on sleep hygiene and sleep routines. It also addresses anxiety and stress, including through mindfulness.
  • Medical treatment
    In some cases, medication for sleep problems can be prescribed, but it is important to note that this should be seen as a temporary solution. If you want to try medication, talk to your doctor.

Managing sleep problems on your own can be a challenge. There are also many alternative treatments with natural remedies that many people use, and they can be helpful, but consulting a professional therapist can help you understand the underlying causes and create a tailored treatment plan for you if you are experiencing a lot of sleep difficulties.

Taking a step towards better sleep and quality of life

If you or someone you know is experiencing sleep problems, help is available. Lavendla’s licensed psychologists and therapists will help you every step of the way on your journey to better sleep and health. Don’t be afraid to take the step towards recovery. We make the difficult easier.

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12 common questions about sleep difficulties

What is sleep deprivation?

Sleep deprivation often means having difficulty falling asleep, waking up at night or waking up early in the morning. You may worry a lot and sleep problems are often linked to other mental health problems.

What are the causes of sleep problems?

Sleep problems can be caused by different factors. These can be lifestyle factors or external events such as crises, stress or anxiety, but there can also be underlying medical causes. Life changes such as having children or going through menopause can also have an impact.

How common are sleep problems?

Sleep problems are very common and can affect people of all ages. It is estimated that one-third of the population has some form of sleep disorder.

How do sleep problems affect my physical health?

Sleep problems can lead to issues such as fatigue, reduced concentration and difficulties with memory. Often there is a lot of anxiety associated with sleep problems, but there may also be other underlying symptoms such as stress or mental illness. If you have a lot of physical symptoms, contact your GP for a medical assessment and possible tests.

How can I improve my sleep quality?

Try to keep regular bedtimes, avoid caffeine and alcohol before bedtime, and create a calm sleep environment. Exercise can also improve sleep quality.

Are sleep problems common in children?

Sleep difficulties are quite common among children. These difficulties can vary in form and intensity depending on the child’s age and stage of development and can be caused by different factors. If sleep problems affect everyday life, you can seek help from a child psychologist or GP.

Are sleep problems common as a parent of young children?

Sleep problems are common during the toddler years, with around 20% experiencing sleep problems. There is help available if you need it.

Can sleep deprivation be treated?

Sleep deprivation can be treated and the best results have been seen with Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT).

What is ‘sleep hygiene’?

Sleep hygiene is a set of habits and routines that contribute to better sleep. It includes things like avoiding screens and heavy meals before bed and working on relaxation.

Do natural sleep aids work?

Some natural preparations such as valerian and chamomile can help with sleep. However, you should always consult a GP before trying new supplements.

How can stress and anxiety affect sleep?

Stress and anxiety are common causes of insomnia. It is possible to work with, for example, CBT for this.

Is it dangerous to take sleeping pills?

Sleeping pills can be effective in the short term but they are not a long-term solution and can have side effects. Always consult a doctor before starting such treatment.

What should I do if I have serious sleep problems?

At Lavendla, we have experienced psychologists and therapists available to help you feel better. In the case of an acute mental health emergency, call 111 or visit 111.nhs.uk immediately.

How to treat insomnia with Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT)

In this step-by-step guide, we walk you through how sleep problems can be treated using Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT).

  • Step 1: Assessment interview
    During an initial assessment interview, we will review your history and you may be asked to complete forms such as the Insomnia Severity Index (ISI), which measures sleep problems. For severe sleep problems or acute crises, a GP can prescribe medication if necessary.
  • Step 2: Treatment with cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT)
    If the problem is psychological, CBT is an option. During treatment, you will work on sleep hygiene, i.e. your sleep habits. You will also complete a sleep diary and work on strategies to get into your natural sleep rhythm. You can also work on your anxiety and stress through exercises and mindfulness.
  • Step 3: Follow-up and adjustments
    Follow-up sessions evaluate the effect of the treatment and make any necessary adjustments.
  • Step 4: Continued follow-up
    After the treatment, you will be given a plan to maintain your progress and ensure a long-term effect.

How can I get help with my insomnia?

Do not hesitate to seek professional help. It is the first step to regaining a good night’s sleep and an improved quality of life. You are not alone and we are here to help you every step of the way. Book an appointment with one of Lavendla’s licensed psychologists or therapists today.

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Written by dominic

Dominic is a Cape Town-based copywriter and editor with a background in psychology.