Breaking the Cycle of Insomnia to Get a Good Night’s Sleep
Insomnia is the most common mental health complaint, as it affects up to 30% of adults. Insomnia is persistent problems with sleep, lasting for more than one month, and may include difficulty falling or staying asleep or an unsatisfactory quality of sleep.
Sleep is an important part of our functioning as it restores us both psychologically and physiologically. It affects our general physical health by restoring energy, repairing injuries or illness, growth, psychological well-being and mood, concentration, memory, work performance, and getting along with others. When we are unable to have quality sleep, it can have negative affects on us that include poor concentration, memory issues, irritability, impaired judgement, poor physical coordination. The level that each of these affects someone is based on how severe the sleep deprivation is.
There is a wide range of factors which may contribute to insomnia. A few of these factors are:
· Restless legs or twitching legs during sleep
· Side effects of medications
· Alcohol - leads to more fitful, less refreshing sleep
· Caffeine and nicotine
· Anxiety or depression
· Stressful life events
· Dependence on sleeping medication
There may be one set of factors associated with the initial causes of insomnia, and quite another that keeps insomnia going and makes into a chronic problem.
Sometimes insomnia becomes a vicious cycle which starts with having stress, pain, or another reason and then negative thoughts creep in about sleep like “if I don’t receive 8 hours of sleep I will not function tomorrow” or “if I don’t fall asleep soon, I’ll mess up at work tomorrow.” Anxiety and worry spin in your head which causes muscle tension. Muscle tension keeps you awake which causes you to try and help yourself sleep by utilizing something that might not be beneficial to sleep such as using an electronic device before bed. Then you end up with a poor night’s sleep which causes negative side affects of poor daytime functioning. The cycle starts again because the negative thought was reinforced.
There are different types of negative thoughts about sleep that can keep the cycle going.
Assuming the worst about the meaning or cause of sleep problems. For example, someone who thinks “I haven’t slept well this past week, it must mean that I have lost the ability to sleep” is likely to feel much more distressed than someone who thinks “I haven’t slept well this past week - I might be stressed about something at work or at home, I should address it.”
Blaming everything on sleep is another common thinking trap. It is true that poor sleep can affect mood, concentration, memory, and work performance, but sleep is not the only cause of problems in these areas. People with insomnia tend to assume that their sleep problems are the cause of everything that goes wrong with the day.
Unrealistic expectations about how much sleep is needed can make people feel worse about problems with sleeping. For example, people who sleep poorly tend to hold a strong belief that everyone requires 8 hours of sleep per night to function well. In fact, people vary greatly in terms of how much sleep they need. Some people cope quite well on 4-5 hours per night, while others need 9-10. Setting strict rules or targets for your sleep duration will increase anxiety and interfere with the process of falling asleep.
Unhelpful thinking styles such as catastrophizing, black & white thinking, overgeneralisation, and selective attention can also contribute to maintaining sleep problems. For example, people with sleep problems tend to remember the times they slept poorly but forget the instances of good sleep or will notice every little body sensation when trying to get to sleep. People with insomnia also tend to classify a night’s sleep as either “great” or “terrible” without leaving room for “ok” and “good enough.”
Breaking the Cycle of Insomnia
As with any cycle, the only way to stop it is to change something in the cycle. Challenging your negative thoughts to form a more balanced thought will cut into the cycle. Research has shown that negative thinking is connected to negative emotions and behaviour, and so healthy thinking is a very important part of healthy sleeping.
Writing your thoughts down will help you be able to identify the ones which might be causing issues. Ask yourself, is there another way to look at this? It is easy to become stuck in a pattern of negativity so it might not be easy to figure out different ways to look at a thought and you might need some help to find the balanced thoughts. If you need assistance, please reach out, we are here to help.