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The Struggle to Sleep: Insomnia and Self-Care for Well-being

Part 1: Sleep, Insomnia and Self-Care | Sleep Series


Sleep and Its Impact on Health and Well-being

Sleep is essential to every individual’s health and well-being. Sleep is core to our overall well-being, interlaced in our physical, cognitive, and psychological health, and is vital to our quality of life.The amount, quality and regulation of sleep that we get each night, is incredibly important to the functioning of our brain, metabolic regulation, and allowing our bodies to recover. The primary function of sleep is to allow the body to rest and regenerate, while insufficient sleep and related sleep disorders can have harmful effects on an individual. 


Sleep disorders are changes in one’s sleep cycle and habits that can cause detrimental effects to an individual’s health. Changes to sleep patterns, the amount of sleep, and overall sleep quality and hygiene can lead to sleep disorders (Kumar 2008). The International Classification of Sleep Disorders is a manual of sleep disorders, and outlines seven major categories of sleep disorders:


  1. insomnia disorders

  2. sleep-related breathing disorders

  3. central disorders of hypersomnolence

  4. circadian rhythm sleep-wake disorders

  5. sleep-related movement disorders

  6. parasomnias

  7. other sleep disorders


Some examples of the most common sleep disorders include; insomnia, sleep apnea, narcolepsy, circadian rhythm disorder, restless legs syndrome, and sleep terrors. 


In this article, we will review the most common type of sleep disorder, insomnia. 


Insomnia: A Common Sleep Disorder

Insomnia is a common sleep disorder where individuals find it difficult to fall asleep, stay asleep, or achieve restorative sleep. Common experiences of the disorder may result in fatigue and excessive sleepiness, somatic symptoms (such as body or head aches), mood imbalances, and difficulties in cognitive and physical functioning (Perlis et al., 2022).

a woman wearing a eye mask covers her eyes, a pillow behind her has white letters which spell  "INSOMNIA"

To identify an individual’s condition as insomnia, clinicians will first rule out other physical and mental illnesses, as well as side effects of medications and other diagnosed sleep disorders. 


The root causes of insomnia are diverse, and may include factors such as mental stress, anxiety, depression, poor sleep hygiene, irregular sleep patterns, and the consumption or over-consumption of stimulants like caffeine and alcohol. Certain medications and other chronic health conditions, such as pain, asthma, or gastrointestinal issues, may also contribute to experiencing insomnia. The effects of insomnia can be significant to an individual, impacting both physical and mental well-being. This can lead to experiencing daytime fatigue, concentration and attention difficulties, mood swings, and an increased risk of accidents. 


Studies have also defined the existence of different types of insomnia, including:

  • Idiopathic insomnia (childhood-onset insomnia) - this appears to be a life-long condition, beginning in childhood

  • Psycho-physiological insomnia - has cognitive, behavioural, and physiological features

  • Paradoxical insomnia - involves a significant mismatch between how severe insomnia feels to the person and what objective measures detail


The symptoms of insomnia can be one of three ways: episodic (lasting for a period of 1 - 3 months), persistent (3 or more months, or recurrent (two or more episodes of insomnia occurring within one year). Insomnia that persists for longer than a period of 3 months, is considered to be chronic insomnia (Perlis et al., 2022). In the long-term, chronic insomnia can lead to more serious health conditions, such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, or a weakened immune system. This demonstrates the importance of implementing effective management and adequate treatment of sleep disorders. 


Self-Care Methods for Sleep Issues

Some commonly advised self-care methods for dealing with persistent sleep issues, include relaxation and meditation techniques. Improving one’s sleep hygiene can also be effective in helping an individual wind down and sleep more comfortably. Relaxation is a common recommendation for individuals dealing with insomnia. It can include a combination of breathing exercises and muscle relaxation techniques. Meditation is widely renowned as a practice which can help to effectively decrease stress or anxiety, and help to increase relaxation. Improving sleep hygiene can start from addressing the direct environment in which you sleep. 


Some ways of improving one’s sleep environment may include:

  • Removing or limiting use of electronics prior to sleep

  • Blocking out natural light or sources of light in the room (e.g. using blackout curtains, or the use of a sleep eye mask)

  • Increasing or decreasing the temperature of the room to a comfortable level

  • Using earplugs to block out any external sounds

  • Playing low, calming music or white noise



a man sleeps with a blanket and a pllow


With the combination of relaxation and meditation techniques with improved sleep hygiene, these self-care tips may help to alleviate the effects of some sleep issues.


Advice from a Sleep specialist: Dr Jacky Wan


Dr Jacky Wan, a clinical psychologist and expert on sleep
Dr Jacky Wan: Clinical Psychologist

Dr Jacky Wan is our in-house sleep expert, a clinical psychologist with over a decade of experience in treating clients presenting with a variety of sleep issues and sleep disorders, with targeted psychology. Dr Jacky implements Cognitive-Behavioural Therapy for Insomnia (CBT-I) in clients with persistent struggles to fall asleep. 


Here are some techniques that he implements in his treatment of clients presenting with chronic insomnia, to help them learn more about sleep hygiene and help to alleviate the struggles of sleep:



  1. Sleep Diary - Keeping a diary, specifically focused on tracking your sleep, sleep times, and sleep habits can be useful to find out what affects your sleep

  2. Stimulus Control - Re-associating the bed/bedroom as only for sleep to strengthen the cue for sleep

  3. Sleep Restriction - Limiting the time spent in bed to increase the feeling of needing to sleep, by not spending time in bed while awake

  4. Relaxation - Including breathing exercises and meditation practices

  5. Sleep Hygiene - Addressing one’s consumption of stimulants, exercise practices, eating habits and environmental factors

  6. Cognitive Restructuring - Addressing maladaptive thoughts and beliefs about sleep



What next?

Dr Jacky Wan, Clinical psychologist and Sleep Expert

If you are having any concerns with your sleep patterns, sleep quality or experiences with sleep disorders, speak to our specialist clinical psychologist, Dr Jacky Wan. With over a decade of experience, and extensive research and clinical experience in supporting people with sleep difficulties, Dr. Jacky is passionate about working with clients to identify the root cause of individual sleep issues. Dr. Jacky then collaborates with clients to explore how these sleep issues affect and impact their lives, including relationships, careers, health, and well-being. He can then tailor a treatment plan to suit each client’s individual needs.




Resources

Kumar V. M. (2008). Sleep and sleep disorders. The Indian journal of chest diseases & allied sciences, 50(1), 129–135.

Perlis, M. L., Posner, D., Riemann, D., Bastien, C. H., Teel, J., & Thase, M. (2022). Insomnia. The Lancet, 400(10357), 1047–1060. https://doi.org/10.1016/S0140-6736(22)00879-0





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