Sleep is an essential component in our continuing health and well-being. It is an important process. The restorative cycle of sleep means the body is able to rest, refresh, recover and continue functioning normally.
For many of us, sleeping is a natural part of our routine. While we know the health benefits and importance of sleep, few of us truly appreciate how much we need it or know what happens when we don’t get enough. On average, an adult will need seven to eight hours of sleep each night. However, it is thought that one in three adults are affected by sleep problems.
These problems may include:
- confusional arousals
- restless leg syndrome
- teeth grinding (sleep bruxism)
- sleep paralysis
This fact-sheet will explore the different sleep disorders people may experience and how hypnotherapy can help.
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What is a sleep disorder?
There is a strong chance that we will all find ourselves lying awake on rare occasions. This can happen when we feel anxious, excited or roused by a bad dream. However, it is likely that we will be able to return to our normal routine when things have settled down. For others, problem sleeping is a far more common occurrence. Sleep disorders are now considered to be one of the most common health complaints. They can seriously affect the physical, mental and emotional functioning of many individuals.
Sleep disorders is the term used to describe any problems relating to sleep. This can include insomnia, excessive sleep, night terrors, sleep bruxism (teeth grinding) and nocturnal enuresis (bedwetting during sleep). Some sleep disorders may stem from an underlying medical condition such as a psychological disorder. Others may occur as side effects of prescribed medication.
There are a variety of warning signs which may be indicators of a sleep problem such as:
- feeling as though you have had sufficient sleep but are very tired throughout the day
- drifting off mid-conversation
- a partner disturbing you regularly by snoring, physical movements, sleep-talking or sleepwalking
- starting a new medication and finding your sleep to be affected.
Please note that not everyone who exhibits all or some of these symptoms will have a sleep problem. People will have their own experience of sleep disorders.
The sleep cycle
To many of us, sleep may seem like one continued state of unconsciousness. When in fact, it is a process made up of several stages. Sleep is a reoccurring cycle which can be split into two main categories. Rapid eye movement (REM) and non-rapid eye movement (NREM).
The first phase of the sleep cycle we experience is known as non-REM sleep and occurs in four stages. Often, the first stage is referred to as “light sleep". Here the muscle activity slows down and though we are sleeping, we can be easily roused. We move into stage two after about ten minutes. Stage two on average will last 20 minutes, during this time our breathing and heart rate slow down.
The third stage sees us entering deep sleep. This is where our brain begins to produce delta waves and the rate of breathing and heart rate slow to their lowest levels. After this, we enter the final stage of non-REM sleep. This is characterised by a combination of limited muscle activity and rhythmic breathing. It is this stage of sleep where we may feel disorientated when woken suddenly.
During non-REM sleep, the body has the opportunity to fix any wear and tear from the day. The body will repair and regenerate tissue, build muscle and bone and strengthen the immune system.
Approximately 25 per cent of the sleep cycle is spent in REM sleep. This phase occurs 70 to 90 minutes into sleep. It is at this stage that the brain is the most active: our breathing rate and blood pressure rise and our eyes dart from side to side. Despite increased activity in the brain, it is assumed the muscles remain paralysed due to the body protecting us from acting out the dream.
We experience three to five REM episodes each night. During the night, each cycle will become less dominated by non-REM phases, progressively becoming more dominated by REM sleep.
It has been reported that dreams are at their most vivid when woken from REM sleep.
How can hypnotherapy help?
It is important to contact your GP if you are experiencing a sleep disorder. They will be able to provide you with a diagnosis and advice, as well as being able to rule out any underlying medical conditions. At this stage your doctor may recommend a special treatment or service, such as hypnotherapy.
Hypnotherapy focuses on understanding and changing patterns of behaviour. Though the cause of the problem will vary for each individual, there are many conditions that may increase the risk of developing a sleep disorder.
Certain psychiatric disorders, sleep deprivation, various medical conditions and medications, as well as previous trauma are thought to be underlying causes of sleep disorders.
Hypnotherapy has been used as a way of altering and reconditioning negative patterns of behaviour for many years. Hypnotherapy for sleep disorders will do this by seeking out the root cause of the problem and altering the individual’s perception of it.
Many sleep disorders are fuelled and worsened by issues that can be effectively treated with hypnotherapy, such as stress and anxiety. Usually it is not the situation itself that causes stress but the way we react to it. By inducing a state of deep relaxation, the hypnotherapist will be able to gain access to the unconscious mind. The hypnotherapist will target the negative thought patterns, teaching the individual how to manage the feelings and view them in a positive perspective.
Another technique commonly used is hypnoanalysis. This involves a combination of hypnosis, psychotherapy and neuro-linguistic programming (NLP). Hypnoanalysis explores limiting patterns of behaviour and visualisation techniques. The individuals may be asked to imagine themselves in a particular setting where they feel calm and relaxed.
A hypnotherapist may use a combination of the techniques mentioned, or they may think you will benefit from just one. To achieve the most effective outcome, the practitioner will consider your concerns. After this, they will tailor the treatment to your personal circumstances.
Types of sleep disorders
Listed below are some of the most common sleep disorders and parasomnias affecting people today. Parasomnia is the term used to describe a group of sleep disorders. Parasomnias include unnatural behaviours, movements, perceptions, emotions and dreams that occur during various stages of sleep.
“Confusional arousals” is the term used when individuals awake from sleep but remain in a confused state. Sufferers will react slowly to commands and may have difficulty understanding questions. Generally, these episodes are very mild and only last for a few minutes. While harmless, they can be an indicator of another sleep disorder that may be causing the sleep disturbance, such as sleep apnoea and restless legs syndrome.
Nightmares are vivid and frightening dreams that tend to rouse the dreamer from sleep during the REM stage. These dreams are a natural part of our lives and we will all experience nightmares. However, some individuals will experience frequent nightmares which can become a worrying and disruptive issue.
According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, the criteria for nightmare disorder suggests sufferers will consistently wake from sleep. They wake feeling alert and with detailed memories of dreams that often involve a threat to survival. Individuals may also find that their nightmares commonly occur in the second half of the sleep period.
Nightmare disorder is not to be confused with night terrors. Night terrors is a condition characterised by episodes of extreme panic and confusion.
Nocturnal enuresis (bed-wetting)
Nocturnal enuresis, otherwise known as bed-wetting, is the unintentional passing of urine while asleep. There are two main forms of the condition, primary and secondary enuresis.
- Secondary enuresis - This term is used to describe a relapse in an individual who previously had urinary control.
- Primary enuresis - This is when an individual has consistently struggled to maintain bladder control. Medical conditions such as diabetes, sleep apnoea and psychiatric disorders can often act as contributing factors.
According to the NHS, the condition is far more common among children under the age of seven. Experts have said this may be due to children being unable to produce enough of the antidiuretic hormone (ADH) responsible for controlling urine production. Other contributing factors include psychological issues or the child may simply taking longer to develop bladder control.
Nocturnal enuresis can also occur in adults. This can be quite uncomfortable and embarrassing for an adult. Many sufferers attempt to hide their symptoms. This can impact their emotional state and relationships.
If the condition begins suddenly, it likely something acted as a trigger, such as a physical trauma.
An individual suffering night terrors will wake suddenly from sleep in a panic-stricken state. They may appear awake, but they will often be disorientated, confused and incapable of communicating. While the course of the night terrors will vary for each individual, it will be difficult to wake them and they may fall back to sleep. It is common for sufferers to have no recollection of the night the following morning.
Restless leg syndrome
This is a neurological disorder that causes unpleasant and uncontrollable sensations in the legs. Often the pain results in an overwhelming urge to move them to relieve the discomfort. Symptoms often occur when a person is in a relaxed state during the night.
Sufferers may find the severity of the pain and irritation increases when they are lying down, trying to relax. This is where sleeping can become difficult. If left untreated, the condition can result in the individual feeling exhausted. This exhaustion can then impact their working life, relationships and overall well-being.
Sleepwalking is when an individual performs a series of complex actions such as walking and roaming the house while asleep. Individuals will often appear clumsy, confused and will usually have their eyes open. It is not unusual for sleepwalkers to be quite vocal, though they may be nonsensical.
It is thought that sleepwalking occurs during the first or second sleep cycle, during the deep sleep stage of non-REM sleep.
Sleepwalking is more common among children and adolescents, although it can occur in adults. Experts believe sleepwalking is more likely to occur if a first-degree relative has a history of the problem. There are other factors thought to affect sleepwalking including sleep deprivation, stress or intoxication.
Physiological factors can also play a part. Pregnancy and menstruation is thought to increase the occurrence of sleepwalking in some individuals. In addition, certain medical conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), panic attacks, multiple personality disorder and gastroesophageal reflux are also said to increase the risk of sleepwalking.
Sleep bruxism (teeth grinding)
Sleep bruxism is the term given to the act of involuntary teeth grinding and clenching during sleep. For many, bruxism occurs as a side effect of a psychiatric or medical condition such as Parkinson’s disease, anxiety or depression. Reoccurring grinding and clenching the teeth can lead to dental damage and jaw discomfort. Experts have found links between the condition and recreational drugs and antidepressants.
An individual experiencing sleep paralysis will find they are unable to move their limbs either at sleep onset or upon awakening. According to sleep experts, this will often occur during the REM stage when sleep is disrupted during a dream.
Paralysis is normal while sleeping. The body releases hormones to relax the muscles. However, if woken suddenly in the midst of a dream, these hormones can still be active. This is when the mind is conscious, but the body is not. This effect is not long-lasting and can be ended by touch or sound, such as a partner shaking or talking to the sufferer. While the disorder is harmless, it can be a frightening experience.
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