5 Practical Steps For Dealing With Sleep Problems

5 Practical Steps For Dealing With Sleep Problems

by Dr Emma Gray - 30th June, 2014

How to Deal with Sleep Problems

This article deals with Dyssomnias, these are sleep problems characterised by abnormalities in the timing or quality of sleep, e.g. difficulty getting to sleep, staying asleep. Parasomnias or unusual behaviours that occur during sleep e.g. nightmare, sleeping walking, sleep talking/shouting, night terrors, are dealt with in a separate article.

Sleep problems are one of the most common problems dealt with by Clinical Psychologists and Counselling Psychologists. Sleep problems can interfere significantly with the quality or a person’s life and are usually accompanied by high levels of anxiety and depression.

The following steps have been designed by the Clinical Psychologists and Counselling Psychologists at The British CBT & Counselling Service to help sufferers of sleep problems.

For those with mild sleep problems of short duration they can be used to resolve the difficulty, for those with moderate/severe sleep problems or long standing sleep problems they should be used in conjunction with formal therapy or counselling, ideally Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT).

Practical steps for dealing with sleep problems

1. Monitoring

Monitor the quality/quantity of you sleep by keeping a daily record (e.g. using a score key 0-10) so that you are able to identify important trends/patterns and so that you have clear idea of whether things are improving.

2. Sleep Hygiene

Sleep Hygiene refers to the environmental changes that you can make to maximise your chances of getting a good night sleep. It principally involves reserving your bed (and the bedroom) for sleep only; ensure that all other activities (e.g. watching TV, reading, work and sex) happen elsewhere. The idea here is to strengthen the association between bed and sleep.

3. Eat and Drink adequately

Ensure that you are not hungry, thirsty, too hot or too cold. Evolution has ensured that we will be motivated to satisfy these needs before we satisfy the need for sleep as they are more fundamental to our survival, therefore you will not be able to fall as asleep and stay asleep until you physiologically comfortable.

4. Limit stimulants

Caffeine, alcohol, non prescription drugs will disrupt the natural processes that facilitate sleep.

5. Negative Emotions

Identify and deal with negative emotions e.g. anxiety, depression, anger. See articles in this blog ‘How to deal with anxiety’, ‘How to deal with depression’, ‘How to deal with anger’. Negative emotions have been designed by nature to capture and focus our attention so that we can deal with the problem that has provoked them, this process takes priority over all others including sleep.

Sleep problems are usually a symptom of another difficulty e.g. anxiety, depression, eating disorder (i.e. anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, binge eating disorder, eating disorder not otherwise specified {EDNOS}), post traumatic stress disorder {PTSD}, obsessive compulsive disorder {OCD}, panic attacks, generalised anxiety disorder, social anxiety, low self esteem, stress, relationship problems, grief.

It is therefore important if the above steps do not bring relief within a couple of weeks that you get formal help, ideally some kind of therapy or counselling. At The British CBT & Counselling Service therapy and counselling for sleep problems including Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) for sleep problems is available in our clinics in Richmond, Clapham, Fulham, Marylebone, Islington, Canary Wharf, Kings Cross, West Bridgford (Nottingham), and Stamford (Lincolnshire).

If you are suffering with any of the issues discussed in this article and would like to seek professional help then you may find our Sleep and Chronic Fatigue Pages helpful.

Dr Emma Gray

Dr Emma Gray

I am often the first person with whom my patients share significant and intimate thoughts and memories; I never take that privileged position for granted nor the opportunity to help someone to feel better about themselves and discover a more fulfilling life. One of my colleagues once described me as a natural psychologist; I guess she was alluding to the fact that I feel at ease being a therapist, I can empathise with people’s distress and discomfort but don’t feel overwhelmed by it, I can understand their problem and know how to help, it has always just felt like what I should be doing.

Read more about my approach to counselling here...

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