What is a sleep disorder?
The quality of sleep can be an indicator of general health, and prolonged sleeping difficulties may be a pointer to underlying general or mental health issues. Sleep deprivation studies have shown extreme effects, even as extreme as psychosis. Most people do not get enough sleep each night, causing irritability and inability to think clearly.
Sound sleep is not just important for physical and psychological health, it is also connected with a sense of emotional well-being.
Even minimal sleep loss can take a toll on energy and efficiency, and there is an abundance of research indicating that it can seriously impair performance behind the wheel and contribute to accidents.
It is not a good idea to ignore sleep problems. Aside from immediate issues of tiredness and difficulty functioning, over a prolonged period, these issues can lead to more serious psychological and physical problems.
What are some of the signs of poor quality sleep?
- Decreased energy levels
- Reduce performance at work or school
- Being told by others that ‘you look tired’
- Requiring caffeinated beverages to keep you going
- Greater susceptibility to illnesses
- Emotional imbalances
- Irritability and frustration
- Emotional reactions, disproportionate to the event at hand
- Lack of motivation
- Poor memory recall
- Having difficulty concentrating or processing information
Types of sleeping disorders
- Sleep apnoea: ceasing breathing while sleeping. This can cause repeatedly waking in the night, disturbing sleep cycles.
- Restless legs: irresistible urge to move the legs, which often worsens at night
- Insomnia: inability to fall or stay asleep at night, with no obvious cause. This can be short-term (general due to stressful life events) or long term
- Narcolepsy: uncontrollable sleepiness, irresistible urge to sleep
- Idiopathic hypersomnia: excessive sleep, feeling sleepy despite adequate sleep
- Sleep terrors: waking from sleep with screaming, sweating, and increased heart rate. Person affected does not usually remember any dream that caused them to wake.
Causes of sleeping disorders
- Stress or anxiety
- Drug use
- Learned poor sleep behaviours: association of the bed or bedroom with frustration
- Biological or medical causes, including genetic vulnerability
Strategies to manage sleeping problems
- Maintain a healthy diet.
- Exercise regularly, but not right before bedtime.
- Sleep hygiene as a preventative technique. This is simply establishing good sleep habits. This may include reducing use of devices before bed, do not watch TV in bed.
- Keep your bedroom at a comfortable temperature.
- Go to bed and get up at the same time each day.
- Avoid alcohol and caffeine consumption before bed.
- Speak to a professional about ways to improve sleep.
When to seek professional assistance
Sleep difficulties can be treated and there are a number of effective treatments available. Psychologists at Psychology Melbourne use a combination of evidence-based approaches including cognitive-behavioural therapy, and work with your GP who can prescribe medications, if required. Psychologists are able to help manage your symptoms, and ensure that the disorder does not encroach on regular life activities. This can include changing attitudes about sleep, imagery relaxation techniques, and paradoxical intention (asking clients to avoid sleeping to reduce performance anxiety around sleep).