Sleep, or rather the lack of a refreshing, reviving sleep experience, is a very common theme in the story told by my clients, especially in the course of our first or second session. Trouble settling and falling asleep, interruptions in the course of the sleep cycle, early wakening and difficulty in falling back to sleep are described in various combinations as the narrative proceeds. The consequences the next day are many and varied.
There are many studies and articles in both scientific literature and printed and online media about the importance and benefits of sleep to support brain health and development, mental health and wellbeing, and learning and performance. Too much or too little stimulation or activity, and the effect of alcohol, caffeine and other medications can influence our sleep in a significant way. There is also regular reportage of what can help or hinder effective sleep, including an increasing focus on the disruption that comes from technology. As the expanding body of information from neuroscience highlights, sleep is an essential part of everything ‘brain related’: through all life stages from infancy to healthy, active ageing. Sleep is vital for learning and memory. Our brains continue to be active during sleep, sorting and processing information and experiences from the day, connecting, consolidating, resolving, or storing these and also allowing consolidation of learning to occur.
Working with clients to help them work out strategies that work for them to improve their sleep is central to treating anxiety, depression and a range of other conditions. Consideration is also needed of any known or as yet unidentified underlying physical conditions that might be contributing to the sleep challenge eg pain, sleep apnoea, restless legs syndrome to name a few. It is common that a shared approach with your GP or other health professional is needed to develop an integrated treatment plan. Whilst it can take some time to correct chronically poor sleep through effective treatment a starting point for change can usually be identified.
Many of my clients have read or heard the recommendation to disconnect from technology due to the emission of light from devices yet continue to have them with them in the bedroom; parents often also have some awareness that the use of tablets and phones by their children prior to going to sleep can interfere with sleep behaviour yet allow their child (of a wide range of ages) to watch movies, Instagram, Facetime or YouTube in bed. It is helpful in these situations to work through what they or others need to do to adopt new behaviour.
Often we do not connect that the way we light our homes, including our lounge and bedrooms, has an effect on the way in which our brain gets ready for bed. Production of the sleep hormone, Melatonin, through stimulation of the pineal gland as light taken in by our eyes (including through closed eyelids) diminishes. More subdued lighting, soft lamps and dimmer switches rather than strong fluorescent or LED lights, can help. Using effective blinds or curtains or an eye mask also helps set the context and get our brains and bodies ready for sleep.
Data collection using a sleep diary over a week or two week period often brings the sleep pattern and our individual behaviour to a different level of awareness and also can highlight a previously unrecognised theme or change point to work with constructively. Exploring the current routine and habits in some detail again can shed further light on the context or setting at a personal level.
Making changes to your pre-sleep routine or to the way you set up your bedroom (the bed itself, bedding and room lighting), can have a big impact on the length and quality of the sleep experience.
If you would like some assistance in understanding your or a loved one’s sleep challenge, please give our office a call.