Let’s Talk About Insomnia

Insomnia is the name given to the condition where you are regularly unable to fall asleep or remain asleep for a long enough period of time. As a result, insomnia can have a negative impact on your mood, energy levels, concentration, relationships, ability to stay awake throughout the day and ability to complete simple daily tasks” – Mental Health Foundation

Living with a mental health problem can affect how well you sleep and poor sleep can have a negative impact on your mental health.

Experiencing difficult or troubling thoughts as part of depression can cause insomnia. Nightmares or night terrors which may be linked to trauma can make you feel anxious about falling asleep which in turn can lead to insomnia. Also, racing thoughts caused by mania can make it hard to fall asleep and may cause insomnia.

Eating disorders are often accompanied by anxiety, stress, and/or depression.  Under or over eating can also have a negative effect on your sleep.  Furthermore, when you’re trying to make significant changes in your life – for instance when you’re in recovery – your mind might be in overdrive, creating further anxiety and making it difficult to fall asleep at night.  It’s no wonder so many of you talk about troubles with sleep or feeling exhausted!

If the insomnia is acute (less than approximately 14 days) then try the following:

Creating a Bedtime Routine for Better Sleep

  • Set a designated time to go to sleep and wake up every day. Unfortunately, if you’re having trouble sleeping, one of the worst things you can do for your internal clock is to try and “catch up” on sleep at the weekends. Our bodies require a certain amount of sleep in any given 24 hour period and if it hasn’t gotten what it needs Monday-Friday then doubling up on sleep at the weekends won’t help it to “catch up”. In fact, if you try to “catch-up” on sleep it will likely only confuse your internal clock even more!  So when trying to regulate your sleep, set yourself a reasonable and consistent time to go to sleep and wake up every day. Everybody is different though, so the amount of sleep you require in order to feel alert and rested will differ from someone else’s.
  • Your bedroom environment is also crucial for your sleep patterns.  Research suggests that the type of light emitted from electronic devices such as phones, iPads, and even TVs can confuse the brain into thinking it’s not yet time to release melatonin. It’s helpful to create a technology free zone in your bedroom before you go to sleep.  If you enjoy watching your favourite TV show before bed, try and do so in another room instead. Similarly, if you need to catch up on all of your favourite social apps, try and do so before entering your bedroom. If you’re constantly associating your bed with watching TV, checking social media, reading the news or doing anything other than sleeping then your brain and body won’t naturally switch into time-to-sleep-mode when you lie down in your bed.  So try to train your body and mind to use your bed for sleeping and little or nothing else.
  • Make sure the room temperature and your mattress, pillows and covers are comfortable.
  • If you find that your mind starts to race as soon as you lie down in bed, try doing a 10 minute meditation to settle your thoughts. Breathing meditation, where you focus exclusively on your breath coming in and out of your body, helps you to feel calm and ready for sleep.  You might also find a progressive muscle relaxation meditation helpful.  In this type of meditation you close your eyes and sweep down through your body whilst gently tensing different muscle groups for 5-10 seconds and then releasing them.
  • Your pre-bed rituals are also important for sleep and it’s helpful to try to do the same things every night before bed to help regulate your body’s natural clock.  For example,  every night spend time cleansing your face, brushing your teeth, and then moisturising your skin before bed.  Doing this every single night before climbing into bed helps you to wind down and feel tired.  It’s also helpful if you can try not to eat or drink too close to bedtime. It’s more difficult for your stomach to digest food when you’re lying down and it can leave you with indigestion and acid reflux (that uncomfortable burping up of stomach acid). While it’s important that you consume enough water throughout the day to stay hydrated, try not to drink anything an hour before bed.  An empty bladder when you fall asleep will decrease your chances of waking up in the middle of the night to run to the bathroom.
  • Sometimes having some consistent background noise as you fall asleep can help to drown out any noises from outside or elsewhere in your home.  There are many apps you can download (or even just leave a YouTube sleep video running) that offer an array of sounds like ocean waves, thunderstorms or rain.
  • Medication can cause side effects such as insomnia so speak to your GP/therapist. It is now very rare for sleeping pills to be prescribed but if they are, they are only prescribed on a very short term basis as there can be side effects with them. 
  • You can also find a wide range of natural supplements for sleep. You should always discuss with your GP/therapist.
  • Keep a sleep diary. Information can include: What time you go to bed and get up; total number of hours you sleep; quality of sleep; if you have nightmares or night terrors; if you take naps in the day; what you eat and drink; the amount of caffeine, alcohol or nicotine you have; what medication you are taking; your thoughts/feelings/moods; the amount of physical activity you do. (There are also apps and smart watches that can track this for you).
  • Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT). As you have got used to not sleeping, by learning CBT techniques you can begin to change your negative thoughts and behaviour and try to build confidence that, “yes, I can get to sleep!

Seek help from your GP/therapist if:

  • The changes you have made above are not working.
  • You have been having problems sleeping for a long period.
  • Your insomnia is affecting your daily life, making it difficult for you to cope.

While it can be difficult to reach out, it’s one of the best things you can do for your physical and mental health.

Wishing you all restful sleep.

[Photo by Kinga Cichewicz on Unsplash]

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