The amount of sleep we need varies from person to person and most of us will have periods of poor sleep at some point in our lives. Sleep difficulties become a problem when they are recurrent, night after night, and persist for a prolonged period of time. Similarly, prolonged poor sleep is problematic if it causes you distress and significantly impacts your ability to function well in life.
The quality of our sleep can be a good indicator of our health, both physical and mental, and overall wellbeing. It is therefore important to seek help if your sleep problems persist or worsen. Sleep problems can contribute to a deterioration in your health, relationships, performance and overall quality of life.
Sleep problems can have a severe and debilitating effect on people. It is therefore helpful to be aware of the warning signs for these conditions. Some common signs and symptoms of sleep problems are listed below:
These factors can have a significant impact on the way you cope at work/school, in your relationships and in other important aspects of life (e.g. hobbies and personal care). You may find your motivation and performance drops at work, or that your relationships suffer as a result of you being tired or irritable all the time. You may find you lose interest in activities you used to enjoy or that you let yourself go in terms of self-care.
Sleep and mental health are intricately linked. Our sleep impacts our mental health and our mental health can greatly influence the quality and nature of our sleep. In fact, many mental health diagnoses list sleep disturbance as a core feature of the disorder (e.g. depression or bipolar disorder). Below, we list some of the ways in which mental health can impact sleep:
To be diagnosed with a sleep disorder, you must meet certain diagnostic criteria and your symptoms cannot be explained by another mental disorder, medical condition or the effects of a substance (e.g. illicit drug or medication).
Treatment for sleep problems starts by seeing a health professional and receiving an accurate diagnosis. Your GP is a good first person to speak to about your sleep difficulties. Sleep troubles are common. Your doctor is likely to have had prior experience in managing insomnia and other sleep difficulties in other patients. You can be referred by your GP to another health professional for more specialised care.
Treatment for sleep disorders may involve one or more of the following components:
Lifestyle and simple strategies to promote better sleep can have a significant effect on the quality of your sleep. Your doctor, psychologist or psychiatrist will be able to guide you in this. They may recommend things like
Talking therapy can help to address sleep problems and is often the first-line recommendation. The reason is it does not carry a risk of side effects. Cognitive Behaviour Therapy for Insomnia (CBT-I) is one form of evidence-based treatment designed specifically to help with sleep. In CBT-I, you will learn to recognise and challenge patterns that are getting in the way of your sleep and implement behavioural strategies to promote better sleep. The behavioural component of the therapy includes techniques like stimulus control therapy, sleep restriction and progressive muscle relaxation.
Medications, such as sedatives or melatonin supplements, are sometimes prescribed as a short-term option for severe sleep problems. Medication is not recommended as a long term treatment strategy. Because it can foster dependence and often fails to address the true underlying cause of the condition.
Sleep clinics provide perhaps the most specialised and intensive care for sleep disorders. Sleep clinics often involve a multi-disciplinary team of health professionals. Such as psychiatrists, psychologists, respiratory doctors etc. Also the use of specialised equipment to monitor your sleep overnight. With advances in technology, now you can take some forms of sleep monitoring equipment home. At times, you may indicate other treatment devices, such as the use of a CPAP machine for sleep apnea.
There are many effective treatments for sleep. So if you struggle with sleep problems we strongly encourage you to seek help! If you would like to see a psychologist or psychiatrist regarding poor sleep, speak with your GP about getting a referral. You can also contact our friendly support team for more information and to book an appointment.