Sleep is essential for survival as it recharges energy levels to enable effective physical and mental functioning. Adults need approximately 7-9 hours sleep per night although this varies for each individual. Problems with sleeping can include:
- Difficulty falling to sleep
- Waking in the night (sometimes because of nightmares)
- Waking too early
- Waking feeling un-refreshed
Sleeping problems can be transient (last for a short time only and can usually be connected to a specific reason) or chronic (long-lasting with no apparent specific cause). Although sleep problems are not life-threatening, they can feel distressing, exhausting and depressing.
Moving out of sleep problems
It is useful to consider the causes of sleep disturbance so that changes can be activated.
- Environmental Consider the noise level in which you sleep – use ear plugs if external noise is distracting or play a radio on low volume to focus your hearing. It is possible to sleep through high levels of noise but it may be necessary to change your attitude to it. Excessive, continuous noise may need reporting. Ensure the lighting is appropriate – use an eye mask or a night light, accordingly. Check your sleeping area and bed is as comfortable as possible and the temperature is right for you.
- Sleep time routine Cut out stimulants (caffeine, alcohol, sweet drinks, food additives, nicotine) particularly before sleep time; establish a regular sleep and waking time and do not sleep during the day; relax physically (try a hot bath with lavender oil) and mentally (do no work or ‘heavy’ reading) for an hour before sleep time; try a carbohydrate-high meal 2 hours before sleep; try warm, milky drinks or chamomile tea before sleeping; use muscular relaxation techniques and/or visualizations with positive affirmations (‘I sleep soundly’) to encourage sleep; experiment with reading a light book or listening to a soporific radio station to induce sleep. NB Put a time limit on ‘getting to sleep’ eg 20 minutes. If you are still awake, don’t fight it, get up and do something else for a short time (have a warm drink; read a novel, etc) then try again.
- Lifestyle Ensure you take regular exercise and eat a healthy diet; assess if you seem overwhelmed and relinquish some tasks or responsibilities; give yourself enough time to do what you need to do; accept, change or resolve situations that cause stress; talk or write out any worries and think constructively and creatively about making necessary changes; include relaxation and fun in your life; develop activities that boost your confidence and self esteem.
It may be useful to consider your life as a whole to gain insight into the reasons for your disturbed sleep. It may be linked with current stressors but also past or future issues may affect sleeping patterns. You may wish to evaluate your stress factors by talking with a Counselor.