It is estimated that up to seven million people in the UK are suffering from insomnia. People who sleep well are usually unaware that they are doing anything exceptional. It is only when sleep becomes a problem that we realise how important sleep is to our health and wellbeing.
Causes of Insomnia
Insomnia is defined as having a problem falling asleep staying asleep or early waking. Most people suffer from times of sleeplessness at some stage during their life. Illness, pregnancy, pain, stress and anxiety will all affect the quality of sleep. Usually when the situation changes, normal sleep resumes. Unfortunately, for many people sleeplessness becomes the problem, and long term insomnia starts to affect other aspects of life.
Pills or Therapy?
Doctors are reluctant to prescribe sleeping pills except as an initial part of treatment. Prescribed medications and over-the-counter remedies may help people through a particularly difficult time, but rarely show any long-term benefits. There is growing support for the use of counselling to help sufferers regain control over their sleep and ability to relax.
Cognitive Behavioural Therapy
Research has shown that various forms of counselling and Cognitive Behavioural Therapy are effective in the treatment of Insomnia. They also avoid the risk of any side effects or dependency that may result from the use of sleeping pills or over-the-counter medication. Unfortunately, many GPs are limited in resources and unable to offer effective counselling and alternative therapies on the NHS.
Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) aims at identifying problems and initiating changes in thought and behaviour. It is an effective way of overcoming debilitating psychological and psychological conditions, such as anxiety and insomnia.
With insomnia the problems usually presents themselves throughout the day. Many people suffer from stress and anxiety, finding it difficult to switch off at the end of the day. Other factors, such as diet, alcohol, smoking and even the belief that ‘there is too little time to sleep’, means that many people seem to lose the ability to fall asleep.
It is often only when lack of sleep starts to affect other aspects of life that sufferers realise they have a problem. By this time, the mind and body have lost the habit and need to be ‘retrained’.
CBT aims to identify ways that will help insomniacs achieve and maintain the ability to get a satisfactory night’s sleep. The amount of sleep and the way of achieving this will differ between individuals.
Investigating why a person is finding it difficult to sleep may reveal simple solutions, such as adapting the sleeping environment or changing behaviours like as giving up alcohol and smoking. By initiating a change in routine or encouraging the use of Relaxation Techniques, sleep is restored and any associations with sleep and anxiety improved.
CBT has been found particularly effective in the treatment of anxiety. Anxiety is one of the main causes of insomnia. Sometimes it is difficult to uncover why someone is anxious. It may be related to an event, or have developed over a long period. Symptoms may affect the sufferer during the day or be confined to difficulty in sleeping.
Worry and Sleep
Nowadays, it seems that few people are unaffected by stress. Some may appear to thrive with a stressful lifestyle and appear unaffected by lack of sleep. Others may be aware that their health is suffering from their lifestyle. Paradoxical Insomnia – where the sleeper feels they are not getting enough sleep even though they are – causes anxiety, making it even harder to fall asleep.
The sad fact is that the more you worry about sleep, the more elusive it becomes. Tossing and turning throughout the night becomes a long and lonely place as sleep (or lack of it) dominates your nights and your days. Counselling helps put things back into perspective, encouraging realistic achievable goals, and an acceptance of the parts of life that might be uncontrollable.
Help and Support
Counselling may involve a trip to the doctor to rule out any other health problems that might be causing difficulty sleeping. Your GP may recommend a course of counselling or self help.
There are a number of books and CDs available that provide guidance on relaxation. Classes in yoga, meditation and breathing and relaxation techniques may be helpful or be recommended as part of the therapy. Alternatively, there are specialist counsellors and therapists who may encourage a change in routine or behaviour that will help improve sleep.
Many insomniacs have found that by dealing with the underlying issues that affect their sleep, and learning skills that help them relax, they are able to improve their ability to fall and stay asleep. Counselling has proved successful in treating people with long-term Insomnia and other sleep problems. It is recommended by many experts as the best way to solve long-term sleep problems.