Sleep Disorders and Problems
When Sleep Eludes
INSOMNIA comes in many forms and has many causes – from side effects of prescription medication, alcohol, coffee, vanilla [yes, it’s a stimulant], physical illness, depression or anxiety, negative emotions like guilt or anger, to excitement, diet, disturbance of usual sleep patterns, physical discomfort, allergies [e.g. to invisible pollens], or concrete disturbances like noise. Add a long et cetera to the list!
Forms of Insomnia: Difficulty falling asleep, Disturbed sleep, Nightmares or night terrors, Inability to access Deep Sleep, Too deep and too long sleep periods, Interruption of [+- 90 minutes] sleep cycles, Medical problems like Sleep Apnea; Early Waking.
The pattern of someone’s particular sleep disturbance can often suggest the cause/s and thus the best solutions. Unfortunately too many people become dependant on drugs [prescription, alcohol, other drugs or even starchy foods] in order to get enough rest while sleeping. Except during times of trauma [physical, emotional, societal] it should not be necessary to use chemicals in order to get a great night’s sleep.
Ironically, the same “rules” for having good sleep experiences generally have applied over many centuries and in different cultures, despite great changes in environmental or social circumstances or demands. For instance, if you wouldn’t have felt restful if a troupe of actors came to perform Macbeth in your bedroom in 1620, you also will be unlikely to sleep well if you watch television in the bedroom in the 21st century!
Most cases of insomnia can be easily cured by simple changes in our lifestyle or thinking habits!
That would of course imply that we have to give up the immediate gratification type of comfort or stimulation for the longer-term benefits of great sleep.
If you believe you have sleeping problems or a sleeping disorder, it is a useful first step to note patterns of disturbance and possible correlation to patterns of behaviour or state of mental or physical well-being or discomfort. Many times you will then be able to correct the problem appropriately [and without drugs!] but sometimes it may be necessary to consult a health professional like a Clinical Psychologist or a Doctor, or even to be assessed at a Sleep Laboratory, to find the best solution for the problem.
Specialised techniques like Hypnosis or relaxation exercises are very useful adjuncts to any other methods to alleviate or manage sleep disturbance.
More about types/forms of sleep disturbance and their causes:
First, unless you are quite sure that the cause is purely psychological or in your life style, it is always wise to rule out possible medical causes, then rule out possible substance causes [including prescribed medication], as sleep disturbances could be an early warning system that there is a physical problem that needs attention.
We can test for lifestyle causes by changing the things we are doing according to the list later in this article for at least 10 days, consistently: If our sleep improves significantly, then we no longer have a problem! If not, consult a physician who may also require some blood tests, if medical conditions [like thyroid malfunction or hormonal problems] are suspected. Please note that while conditions like Sleep Apnea may have lifestyle causes [like being overweight and/or using too much alcohol] they can be life threatening conditions that need medical intervention until the lifestyle changes have positive results over time; some conditions require medical management for life.
Medical conditions that may be misdiagnosed on initial inspection as Psychological, include Thyroid malfunction, Hormonal imbalance [in men also, not just the stereotyped women’s states of PMS, pregnancy or menopause! – for instance, low testosterone could contribute to high anxiety and sleeplessness in men]. It is important to treat the medical condition rather than its “psychological” symptoms only.
Conditions like diabetes, high or low blood pressure, kidney malfunction, sinusitis, digestive system problems, etc, etc, may also cause or contribute significantly to sleep disturbances. The medication used to treat these and other disorders [like cancer, or allergies] can frequently be a cause of sleep disturbance, for instance, many medications used for high blood pressure can cause “restless legs” [also found in diabetes] that interferes with sleep. Spinal injuries, especially if high in the spine, can cause interference with sleep due to conditions like spasticity of the limbs or “high tonus” [tension state] of skeletal muscles generally. Acute and chronic pain can interfere with sleep.
Patterns of Sleep Disturbance and emotional arousal: Generally difficulty falling asleep, or frequent waking [once medical causes are ruled out] appear to be related to stimulant/excitement chemical states of the brain [like anxiety or excitement], and early waking with inability to resume sleep appears to be associated with depressed chemical states of the brain [like depression or grief].
Lifestyle causes of sleep disturbances:
Diet: Eating a heavy meal or meat late at night; eating too much meat at supper, eating dairy products at/after supper if you are sensitive to them; garlic, onions, vanilla, alcohol, caffeine [including in chocolate, tea, soft drinks, some food energy supplements], acidic fruits, MSGs [Monosodium Glutamate found as taste enhancer in many “fast” foods like potato crisps, pizza, sauces, Chinese food and most soya sauces, fish or chicken batter at fast food vendors, gravy or basting at many steak houses, some commercial salad dressings]; too low or too high blood sugar, etc.
1] Every authority on sleep disturbances states that “The bedroom should be used for sleep, rest and sex only”. Add to that meditative exercises or spiritual rituals like praying.
2] Do not read in bed. Read on a chair, seated [not slumped/lying down], under good light somewhere else in or out of the bedroom.
3] Except if you are bed-ridden no one should have a TV or PC in the bedroom; if you are renting a single room, then do not watch or work from your bed. Lying down should be associated with rest, sleep, and sex/comfortable togetherness only. We form “habit” brain pathways with repeated action and the brain gets confused when it has opposing pathways associated with the same situation [e.g. being in bed] – it does not know whether to sleep or not, which leads to sleep disturbance.
4] Some forms of meditation can actually stimulate the brain: we need alpha states to rest: do not play eg Beta state generator CDs/MP3s etc late at night. Do not play arousing music or engage in arousing reading/Tv etc [eg thrillers] before going to bed/sleep.
5] As far as possible, keep regular times to fall asleep or wake up. The Reptilian centre of our brain becomes anxious when patterns are interrupted frequently, and will assume a watchful-wakeful state.
6] Do not over-sleep or sleep late to “make up” for sleep lost through late night activities. This affects your sleep-waking cycle. Rather “catch up” with shorter rest or sleep sessions [“siesta” or “forty winks” are sufficient to replenish energy till the next “normal” sleep time.]
6] Do not exercise vigorously within 2-3 hours before bed time [certain yoga or gentle stretching exercises may be acceptable – always test to see if it makes a difference].
7] Create a “settling down” period of at least 30 minutes before attempting sleep. This can include calm music, rubbing on body lotion, prayer/visualisation, affirmations of peaceful, positive thoughts, etc.
8] Use self-hypnosis/relaxation/autogenic training exercises if you feel alert/ anxious/ depressed/ irritable/ aroused at bed time, or if you are in physical discomfort like pain.
Hypnosis recordings can be extremely helpful in combating both sleep disorders and their causes, whether physical like pain or illness, or psychological like anxiety or depression. A properly qualified Clinical Hypnotherapist [i.e. someone like a psychologist/psychiatrist who is qualified not only in hypnosis but also in the neurology and physiology affecting sleep] is recommended although there are also very good commercial sleep-hypnosis products available on the internet. PLEASE READ THE ARTICLES ON HYPNOSIS ON THIS SITE before you buy a product or see a hypnotist as here could be dangers if the hypnotist is not adequately trained or experienced. Always ask for credentials before submitting to any form of treatment!
Disruptive Emotions or Thinking:
There is by now overwhelming evidence, especially since research by Cogitive-Behavioral and Brain scientists in the last half of the 20th century and later, that any form of mental or physical distress can be exacerbated and often even caused by incorrect/dysfunctional habits of thinking or behaving.
Many people frequently sleep very little when they’re involved with something fun or stimulating, and feel fine [though I would recommend that this practice is limited to “occasional” sleep deprivation!]. Suddenly if we can’t sleep due to physical or mental discomfort, we tend to “catastrophise” [i.e. give it more power to disrupt us than necessary or real]… People say “I had ONLY 5 hours’ sleep last night; I MUST be tired and today therefore WILL be terrible!” [So many thinking errors in one statement!] Rather say “I’m so happy and excited that I had a FULL five hours’ sleep and am looking forward to a wonderful day, full of positive energy, and a great night’s sleep thereafter!”
Use phrases like “I’m looking forward to a wonderful night’s rest, and a positive, glorious day tomorrow!” or “I’m welcoming this being awake and am grateful for the wonderful, restorative sleep I will soon enter…” etc, to plant seeds for good outcome in your mind.
Dr Wayne Dyer recommends that we use two verbal techniques to help us be at peace:
- Repeat words like Serenity, Calm, Peace, Joy, Tranquillity, Abundance [etc] until you feel good
- Say “I want to feel good!”, followed by “I intend to feel good!”
Remember, your words [and thoughts] create your reality!
To learn more about this, read books on positive thinking, or watch the commercially available DVD of The Secret.
There are also many “releasing” techniques: Find a therapist or life coach who is trained and experienced to help you to release whatever habits or experiences are interfering with good sleep. Most of us really do not need medication in order to have fantastic sleep! If insomnia is interfering with your ability to be happy and successful, it’s certainly worth the investment to see someone competent who can help you professionally. When people prioritise health, all other aspects of their lives tend to improve dramatically also, at little or no further cost.