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Understanding Mental Disorder

Sleep Disorders

Overview of Sleep Disorders

Sleep disorders are conditions that impact an individual’s quality of sleep and can result in problems with functioning including increased daytime sleepiness and an irregular sleep and wake cycle. Difficulties in sleep are associated with both psychological and physical health problems and can contribute to or worsen existing mental health conditions. Poor quality of sleep has several potential consequences, including decreased energy, irritability, problems concentrating and difficulties in making decisions. Common sleep disorders include insomnia, sleep apnea and restless leg syndrome.

Sleep apnea is a disorder involving a repeated brief cessation of breath when asleep. Individuals with sleep apnea are often sleep deprived and can suffer from a variety of symptoms such as irritability, depression and difficulty concentrating. Restless leg syndrome is a condition of the nervous system that results in an overpowering urge to move your legs, with symptoms that can range from mild to severe. Severe cases of restless leg syndrome can cause anxiety, depression and insomnia. Insomnia is a common sleep disorder involving consistent difficulties falling asleep or sleeping long enough to wake up feeling refreshed. Insomnia is thought to impact roughly 1 in every 3 people in the UK. Many individuals will experience short phases of acute insomnia that is often resolved when a specific worry or circumstance has improved. However, if insomnia persists and becomes a consistent occurrence, then you should see a mental health professional.

Symptoms of Insomnia

Have you been having difficulties staying or falling asleep? Are you waking up often during the night and having trouble falling back asleep? Do you experience fatigue or tiredness during the day? Do you feel irritable or anxious? Do you have difficulty concentrating on tasks, paying attention or remembering? Do you not feel refreshed when you wake up? Are you constantly worried about sleep? If you have been experiencing any of these symptoms, you may be suffering from insomnia and should seek help from a professional.

What causes Insomnia?

There are several common causes for insomnia, which include anxiety, stress, poor sleep habits, lifestyle factors such as work and travel schedules, alcohol or drug use and underlying physical and mental health conditions. Some individuals develop insomnia in response to a stressful life event such as difficulties at work or a bereavement. When you start to associate your bed with being awake, insomnia can persist long after the stressful event. This can then develop into anxiety about sleep itself. Erratic bedtimes or a poor sleeping environment can also contribute to insomnia – for example, if your bedroom is too noisy, warm or cold. In addition, consuming alcohol prior to bed or stimulants such as caffeine and nicotine can impact your sleep.

Treating Insomnia

Insomnia can improve by changing your sleeping habits. For example, going to bed and waking up at the same time daily can help improve your sleeping pattern. Other sleeping habits that can help with insomnia include only going to bed when you feel tired, getting a comfortable mattress, covers and pillows and making sure your bedroom is quiet and dark by wearing eye masks, ear plugs or using blinds. Avoid consuming nicotine, exercising or drinking anything with caffeine (e.g. coffee, tea) at least 4 hours before bed.

If changing your sleeping habits has not worked and you have had difficulty sleeping for several months then you should seek professional help. Psychological therapy such as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) can help in the treatment of insomnia by helping you change your thoughts and behaviours associated with sleep. If insomnia is severe and other treatments have not worked, pharmacological therapy may be prescribed for a few days or weeks.

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