Insomnia and Sleep Issues

Sleep is a vital process in maintaining a good level of both physical and mental health. It enables the body and mind to rest and repair itself to ensure we are able to function well in our daily lives. The amount of sleep we need differs from person to person, but most adults between seven to nines hours a night. For most of us, sleep is something we take for granted and rarely give a second thought to; until we don't get enough. Although sleep feels like one continuos state of unconsciousness, it is in fact made up of several different stages which repeat during the time we are asleep. There are two different parts to sleep, Non Rapid Eye Movement (NREM) and Rapid Eye Movement (REM). Non-REM sleep has four stages and lasts approximately 70 minutes. It ranges from light sleep where muscle activity slows, moving, after about 20 minutes to a state where our breathing pattern alters and heart rate slows. We then enter a state of deep sleep where heart rate and breathing slow to their lowest during the cycle. In the final stage of non-REM sleep we have limited muscle activity and slow rhythmic breathing. It is during non-REM sleep that the body has the opportunity to repair and regenerate. REM sleep occurs around 70 – 90 minutes into the sleep cycle. It is during this stage that the brain is at it's most active, with breathing and blood pressure rising and eyes moving from side to side, although our muscles remain still as a hormone is released which prevents movement, most probably to stop us physically acting out our dreams. We experience three to five periods of REM sleep each night, with cycle staring again after each episode. During the night, each cycle of sleep becomes less dominated by no-REM sleep, with longer periods of REM sleep. Although we can dream during any stage of sleep, the most vivd dreams happen when we awake during REM sleep.

Insomnia is the interruption of your normal pattern and affects as many as 25% of adults. The condition can last anything from a few days to months (chronic insomnia) and can lead to depression and other health conditions. The symptoms include difficulty in getting to sleep, waking frequently, still feeling tired after sleep, waking early and not getting back to sleep, lack of concentration and headaches. Insomnia can be caused by many issues including anxiety and depression, physical pain and discomfort, disruption (noise, light etc), alcohol and caffeine, life changes (bereavement, relationship problems, work problems). It is important that the sleeping environment is conducive for sleeping; not too hot or cold, well ventilated, with a comfortable mattress and pillows. It is also a good idea to establish a regular time for going to sleep and getting up, don't eat too much late at night and don't exercise too close to bedtime.

There are also a number of sleep disorders which disrupt normal sleep patterns, including:

  • Confusional arousals which occur when you wake up but remain in a confused and disorientated state and can last for a few minutes before returning to sleep. The confusional arousals do not cause harm but are usually an indicator of an other issue such as sleep apnea or restless legs syndrome.
  • Restless legs syndrome which is a neurological disorder that causes uncontrollable movement and can lead to exhaustion
  • Sleepwalking where the individual is able to walk and talk whilst still being asleep, although they give the appearance of being awake. It is more common in childhood, but adults can suffer, with the condition being exacerbated by alcohol, stress and some medication.
  • Sleep paralysis occurs when awoken, usually during REM sleep. The sufferer is unable to move their limbs and although it is distressing, it does not cause harm, with the effects soon wearing off.
  • Nightmare disorder occurs when a person experiences frequent and vivid nightmares, waking with detailed memories of the dream which often involve a threat to life.
  • Night terrors is a condition where the sufferer experiences extreme panic and confusion. Although they may appear to be awake, they will usually return to sleep fairly quickly with no recollection of the episode.

If you are experiencing a sleep disorder, it is important to consult your G.P. who will be able to give you a diagnosis and advice.

How can we help?

We can help by working on changing unhelpful behaviours by uncovering the root cause of the problem and helping you to change your perception of the issue. We can help you to relearn the desired behave, after all, we were born knowing how to sleep, so the ability to sleep will still be there. It is also possible to use hypnotherapy to regress back to a time when you could sleep well and to bring that state of mind into the present, enabling a good nights sleep.

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