What are Sleep Disorders and Insomnia?

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Insomnia and Sleep Disorders

The world is an increasingly demanding place, and insomnia and sleep problems seem to be on the increase.  Just about every newspaper and media website lists tales of financial misfortune. Even high-street leaders are shutting their doors. The spectre of job cuts is haunting boardrooms, and places of work. Is it any wonder that people today turn out to be uneasy, at times to the point of anxiety about their  job stability and financial future? Many work doubly hard to make sure that, if the axe of redundancy falls, they’ll be saved. The vulnerability they feel can occupy a significant portion of their waking thoughts, and these thoughts can on occasion continue into the night when they ought to be sleeping.

insomnia and sleep disorders | sleep manchesterIt’s not just money and employment concerns which affect our capability to nod off. Many of us experience insomnia at some time or another for an infinite variety of reasons, and for quite a few the situation will be short-term or irregular. On the other hand, when insomnia is persistent and stretches into several hours, nearly every night, it will become a sleep disorder that may potentially have a significant effect on both mental and physical well-being.

Facts about sleep problems:

About one in three people will be affected by insomnia at some stage in their life, encountering one or more of the different aspects: getting off to sleep, awakening during the night, often many times, or awakening too soon each morning.

Insomnia is much more frequent in women and more frequently reported in later life.

One common misunderstanding is that we require a smaller amount of sleep as we age. This may not be entirely true. We require a similar amount. It merely gets more difficult to remain asleep for a lot of people.

The amount of sleep someone requires differs from one individual to another. Ex British Prime Minister Winston Churchill famously stated he could function on only 5 hours’ sleep per night, but something in the range of 7-9 hours is much more usual for an adult to be able to sustain ideal physical and mental performance.

Causes of insomnia:

There are numerous reasons for insomnia. Some cases may have a physical cause, such as an underlying medical condition; some may be related to drug or alcohol intake, over use of caffeinated products or prescribed medicines. Factors like diet, lifestyle, age, and your physical environment also play a part. However, a significant majority of insomnia cases stem from anxiety, worry, stress or depression.

Symptoms of insomnia:

Most people will be familiar with the symptoms of sleep deprivation such as moodiness, low motivation, difficulty in remembering things and poor focus and concentration, reduced levels of energy, co-ordination difficulties, spatial awareness, and issues with judgment and decision-making. Perhaps more worrying however is the impact long-term sleeplessness may have on our actual physical health and well being. Long term insomnia can result in health issues including headaches, Irritable bowel syndrome, putting on weight, and diminished immune system function, which may result in severe illness. There are further significant problems with insomnia, including the influence low mood and irritability may have on our capability to work and on personal and professional relationships.

Why do we need to sleep?

Scientists still don’t fully understand the function of sleep. However, there are several commonly-held theories, that are widely accepted which include:

* Giving your brain essential ‘downtime,’ and allowing the synapses to rest.

* Repair and restoration, with two types of sleep REM and NREM addressing physiological and cellular regeneration respectively.

There have been many studies in recent years which seem to illustrate that repair of tissue, muscle growth, and protein synthesis only ever occur during sleep, and that a reduction in these functions through sleep deprivation can have a very detrimental effect on the immune system function, subsequently resulting in health issues and in some cases death.

*Memory and learning. Some scientists believe that sleep is necessary in order to process the information an individual has been exposed to during wakefulness and to transfer this data into long-term memory. This could be an explanation for why memory is adversely affected by sleep deprivation. A recent article published by Harvard University stated that ‘the quantity and quality of sleep have a profound impact on learning and memory.’

Effects of insomnia:

A sleep-deprived person will experience difficulty in focusing attention and will therefore have problems learning in the first place, and as sleep seems to play a role in transferring learned information into the long-term memory area of the brain, even if information has been acquired, it may not be retained.

Treatment for insomnia:

Lots of people will have experimented with traditional home remedies for insomnia and other natural sleep remedies, for example a hot bath and milky beverages at nighttime, avoiding heavy meals shortly before bed, and avoiding an inactive life-style by exercising are all common insomnia treatments. But when these methods do not provide an insomnia cure, people typically turn to their Doctor. A doctor’s first course of action will usually be to advise relaxation techniques, perhaps in combination with a programme of exercise. However, in acute cases, a medical practitioner will nearly always prescribe sleeping pills, usually starting out with a mild sedative, and then bringing in stronger drugs if the patient fails to respond. It should be pointed out though that while useful in times of crisis, this treatment can only be regarded as a short-term solution because sleeping tablets only treat the wakefulness aspect of the condition, but do not treat the underlying causes of insomnia. An additional problem is that sleeping tablets are often highly addictive, which is why GP’s usually only prescribe them for a maximum of a few weeks.

Recent studies taking in historical records have revealed that the idea of sleeping solidly through the night for around 8 hours is a recent concept and may even be unnatural. However, irrespective of whether we sleep in a solid block or two chunks of 3-4 hours, all the evidence states that human beings must regularly get the amount of sleep that’s right for them in order to function properly and for the body to repair itself overnight. Therefore, if an overactive mind is keeping you awake over and over again, it may be time to speak to a psychotherapist who can explore the psychological causes of your insomnia, such as anxiety, depression, or stress and help you change your way of thinking so that your responses to stress are altered.


About Nigel Magowan

Nigel is a professional and experienced Solution-Focused Integrative Psychotherapist, Counsellor, Life Coach, a Licensed NLP Master Practitioner, and a Clinical Hypnotherapist. Since 2002 he has run his own busy full-time Psychotherapy, Counselling, Life Coaching, NLP and Hypnotherapy practice in Chorlton, South Manchester. Within easy traveling distance of Altrincham, Bolton, Didsbury, Eccles, Fallowfield, Gatley, Glossop, Knutsford, Macclesfield, Manchester City Centre, Oldham, Preston, Rochdale, Sale, Salford, Stockport, Stretford, Urmston, Whalley Range, Wilmslow, Withington, Worsley and other towns in Lancashire, Cheshire, Derbyshire and the Greater Manchester and the North West area of England. 

photo credit: DustyAllDayLong via photopin cc

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