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Therapists explain common causes of sleep problems

by Sarah Graham
Tuesday 27 January 2015
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We all know there's nothing better than getting a really good night's sleep and waking up feeling refreshed, rejuvenated and ready to face the day. Conversely, a lack of sleep can leave you feeling miserable, grumpy, and pretty bad company. Of course, most of us cope fine with the occasional late night, but sleep problems can arise if you consistently have trouble sleeping (insomnia), or if you find yourself sleeping too much (hypersomnia). We asked RSCPP therapists to explain some of the common psychological causes of sleep problems.




Problems getting to sleep affect a huge number of people, with the incidences of significant sleep problems being much higher in older adults. If these sleep problems are not addressed, they can develop into a more serious and diagnosable disorder called insomnia. One of the most common causes of difficulty sleeping is anxiety, which leads to fatigue and an inability to switch off the parts of your brain that trigger sleep. Anxiety is mainly worry about the future - a lot of people struggle with falling asleep when they are going through particular stressors or a crisis in their life, which explains why anxiety is one of the main underlying causes of poor sleep. Therapy focused on anxiety, stressors and sleep hygiene may prove helpful if you are experiencing sleep problems. 



Therapist: Registered Psychotherapist Esmee Rotmans
Depression can affect your sleep in two ways: Insomnia (difficulties falling asleep or staying asleep) or hypersomnia (excessive sleeping). Both leave you feeling tired upon waking. This means that, even if you sleep a lot when you are depressed, you wake up feeling exhausted as opposed to rested and energised. Research has shown that an increase in Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep, which is when you dream, can make you feel more tired upon waking. In other words, when you are depressed, you may sleep more, have more REM sleep, which leaves you feeling tired.
Registered Psychotherapist Esmee Rotmans


Unresolved issues

Therapist: Accredited  Counsellor Gavin Robinson
One cause of sleep problems may be simply needing to think something through which is on your mind. This can be seen as a real nuisance; you are likely to feel anxious about needing to sleep as soon as possible, knowing that there are things to do in the morning, and this can consequently develop into a vicious circle. However, allowing your thoughts to wander, constructively, can mean that sleep is more likely to come along. Dealing with these thoughts this way avoids giving yourself an unnecessary difficult time about it, with the added value that you may have got somewhere in thinking through what is on your mind. There are some things that can be too tricky to think about on your own, and sometimes this can be helped by talking it through with someone else.
Accredited Counsellor Gavin Robinson

Finding support

If you are concerned about the issues raised in this article then you may like to read about finding the right therapist for you. If this route is not appropriate for you, your GP can assess you and direct you towards support.

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Updated 27 January 2015