Given how vital it is, you’d think it would be easy for all of us to fall asleep. It’s not
Why do we sleep?
Sleep is a complex and multi-faceted process that is essential for the overall health and well-being of human beings. There is still much that scientists do not understand about sleep, but there is a growing body of research that suggests that sleep plays a vital role in a wide range of physiological and psychological functions.
Let’s have a look at sleep from different perspectives to better understand it:
From a neurological perspective, sleep is thought to help with the consolidation of memories and the processing of information learned during the day. Research has shown that sleep plays a critical role in the formation of new neural connections, which is essential for learning and memory. Research has also shown that different stages of sleep are associated with specific patterns of brain activity and changes in physiological markers such as heart rate and breathing.
From a biological perspective, sleep is essential for the repair and restoration of the body. During sleep, the body produces hormones that promote growth and repair of tissues, and it also boosts the immune system. Studies have shown that people who get adequate sleep are less likely to get sick and recover more quickly when they do get sick.
From an immunological perspective, sleep is necessary for the body to repair and regenerate. Research has shown that sleep deprivation can lead to a decrease in white blood cells, which are responsible for fighting off infections and diseases.
From a psychological perspective, sleep plays a crucial role in regulating mood, emotions, and cognitive function. Research has shown that sleep deprivation can lead to a range of negative psychological effects, including irritability, depression, and anxiety.
Sigmund Freud, a founder of psychoanalysis, believed that sleep is an important time for the mind to process and organize thoughts, emotions, and experiences.
Unfortunately, despite its importance, many factors prevent a good night’s sleep, including:
- Stress and anxiety: High levels of stress and anxiety can make it difficult to fall asleep and stay asleep.
- Noise and light pollution: Loud noises or bright lights can disrupt the sleep pattern, making it difficult to fall asleep or stay asleep.
- Temperature: A room that is too hot or too cold can make it uncomfortable to sleep.
- Uncomfortable bed or pillows: An uncomfortable bed or pillows can make it difficult to get comfortable and fall asleep.
- Caffeine and nicotine: Consuming caffeine or nicotine close to bedtime can interfere with sleep, as they are stimulants that can keep the body awake.
- Certain medications: Some medications can have side effects that disrupt sleep, such as insomnia or nightmares.
- Medical conditions: Certain medical conditions, such as sleep apnea, insomnia, or restless leg syndrome, can make it difficult to fall asleep or stay asleep.
- Poor sleep hygiene: Poor sleep hygiene, such as having an inconsistent sleep schedule or using electronic devices close to bedtime, can make it difficult to fall asleep or stay asleep.
- jet lag, shift work and other sleep schedule disruptions, can also affect the circadian rhythm, making it hard to fall asleep or stay asleep.
- Mental health conditions such as depression and bipolar disorder can also affect sleep quality.
Here’s what you can do about it
The first line of defense before involving medication is called Sleep Hygiene
Sleep hygiene refers to a set of practices and habits that are intended to promote healthy and restful sleep. This can include things like establishing a regular sleep schedule, creating a comfortable sleep environment, avoiding stimulating activities before bedtime, and avoiding substances that can interfere with sleep (such as caffeine or alcohol). Maintaining good sleep hygiene can help to improve the quality of sleep, and can also help to alleviate symptoms of insomnia and other sleep disorders.
Following that, we recommend Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT)
CBT interventions for sleep typically involves several key components, such as:
- Sleep diary: The therapist will ask the patient to keep a sleep diary, which records information about their sleep patterns, including the time they go to bed, the time they wake up, and any difficulties they have falling asleep or staying asleep.
- Sleep education: The therapist will provide the patient with education about the importance of sleep and the factors that can affect sleep quality.
- Relaxation techniques: The therapist will teach the patient relaxation techniques, such as deep breathing exercises, progressive muscle relaxation, and visualization, that can help them to relax and fall asleep more easily.
- Cognitive restructuring: The therapist will help the patient to identify and change negative thought patterns that may be contributing to their sleep problems.
- Stimulus control: The therapist will teach the patient to establish a consistent sleep schedule and to avoid activities that can stimulate the mind and make it difficult to fall asleep.
- Sleep restriction: The therapist will set a consistent bedtime and wake-up time and teach the patient to avoid napping during the day, so they can establish a consistent sleep schedule.
- Exposure therapy: For patients with insomnia related to a specific fear or phobia, the therapist may use exposure therapy to help the patient face and overcome these fears.
- Follow-up: The therapist will check in with the patient periodically to assess progress and make any necessary adjustments to the treatment plan.
CBT for sleep is typically short-term, with most treatment lasting between 4 to 8 weeks. The therapy sessions can be in-person or online, and patients are also typically asked to do some homework between sessions to reinforce the techniques learned.
It’s important to note that CBT is not a “quick fix” and it requires patience and commitment to see results, but it is an effective treatment for insomnia and other sleep disorders, and it can lead to long-term improvement in sleep quality.
If you’re really struggling despite taking the sleep hygiene steps, get your doctor involved.