Helping us process the day, rest and heal, sleep has a huge impact on our overall health and well-being. When we become sleep deprived, we can start feeling exhausted, lacking in motivation and can even be more easily overwhelmed by stress.
After a prolonged period of poor sleep, both mental health and physical health can be affected. This can lead to conditions such as depression, heart disease, and diabetes. It can even shorten your life expectancy.
We know that sleep is important - but for some of us, it isn’t as easy as just getting an early night. Problems sleeping can make sleep elusive and anxiety-inducing. Here we’ll be looking at sleep in more depth, including common sleep problems and how hypnotherapy can help overcome them.
Understanding the sleep cycle
While sleep may feel like one long stretch of time where we’re unconscious, it’s actually made up of several different stages which form a cycle. Within this cycle, there are two types of sleep, rapid eye movement (REM) and non-rapid eye movement (non-REM).
The first type we experience in non-REM sleep. This is when we first fall asleep and gradually fall into deeper and deeper stages of sleep. During non-REM phases, our bodies have the chance to repair any wear and tear from the day, build muscle and bone strength, and strengthen our immune system. If you’re woken up during a non-REM stage of sleep, you’ll likely feel disorientated.
The REM phase makes up about 25% of the sleep cycle and this is where we process the day. It’s vital for our memory, learning and replenishing hormones such as serotonin (the feel-good hormones).
Our brains are most active during this stage and this is when dreaming takes place. This is why sometimes you wake up remembering your dreams and sometimes you don’t - it all depends on whether or not you wake from a REM phase (we experience between three and five each night).
Together, these sleep phases help both body and mind calibrate, heal and re-energise, ready for the day ahead. It’s understandable then that when our sleep pattern is disturbed by sleep disorders, our health can suffer.
Russell Foster explains why we need sleep in his TED talk.
Almost all of us can relate to how it feels when we don’t have a good night’s sleep. Perhaps noisy neighbours kept us awake, or we couldn’t switch off after a busy day at work. Having the odd restless night is common and tends to rectify itself quickly the following night.
What are sleep disorders?
Sleep disorders are ongoing conditions that have lasting effects on sufferers. If you’re worried about your sleeping habits, visiting your GP is always recommended. They will be able to carry out tests to ensure there is no underlying physical condition. They can also help to diagnose if you have a sleep disorder and recommend different treatment options that might best suit your specific condition.
Hypnotherapy can help aid with sleep problems, such as bedwetting, trouble sleeping, and related nighttime anxiety. You should always visit your GP or healthcare professional if you are worried you may have a sleep disorder.
How hypnotherapy for sleep problems can help
If your sleep disorder has links to anxiety, stress and unhealthy habits, hypnotherapy may be able to help. The aim of hypnotherapy for sleep disorders is to help you uncover what is causing them and to give you the tools to help change any related bad habits, negative thought patterns, or issues.
Sleep problems can often lead to anxiety, as sufferers may fear going to bed and not getting enough sleep. Hypnotherapy looks to reduce this anxiety by suggesting different responses to your subconscious.
A qualified, experienced hypnotherapist will help you enter a state of hypnosis, or deep relaxation, where your subconscious is more open to suggestion. Using different techniques, your hypnotherapist will then be able to ‘plant’ more positive suggestions to help your mind react differently around sleep.
Often, hypnotherapists will teach clients self-hypnosis techniques. This means you’ll be able to continue reinforcing positive changes that are started during your sessions in the comfort of your own home. Some may also recommend relaxation techniques or even give you audio downloads to listen to.
As we work to overcome the related issues and reduce their anxiety, they feel calmer and more relaxed which helps stop the cycle of negative thinking and rumination at bedtime.
- Hypnotherapist, Andrew Major.
Common sleep problems
There are many different types of sleeping problems which have different sets of symptoms. Below we’ve outlined some of the more common sleep issues and how they can affect you.
Perhaps the most well-known sleep disorder, insomnia is when we have difficulty getting to sleep or staying asleep for long enough to feel refreshed the next morning. Often, insomnia can lead sufferers to feel extreme anxiety about getting enough sleep which then makes it even harder for them to sleep.
Almost all of us have experienced a nightmare - a scary, sad or traumatic dream that can wake us up or make us feel like we’ve not rested. There can be many reasons for someone having nightmares, such as medication side-effects, and for some, it becomes a condition called nightmare disorder.
Nightmare disorder is diagnosed when someone consistently wakes in their sleep because of nightmares. They tend to wake feeling very alert and may struggle to get back to sleep because of the stress caused. If you are worried that you (or someone you care about) may have nightmare disorder, it is important to speak with your GP to seek an official diagnosis and support.
Not to be confused with nightmares, night terrors will cause an individual to wake suddenly from sleep in a panic-stricken state. You are likely to feel disoriented and unable to communicate. If you experience night terrors, it can be common to feel like you are in danger, which may lead to you trying to ‘escape’ from the perceived threat or situation. In many cases, people who experience night terrors will have no recollection of the event the next morning.
Restless leg syndrome
Restless leg syndrome, also known as Willis-Ekbom disease, is a neurological condition that causes unpleasant sensations in the legs which can only be relieved with movement. Restless leg syndrome tends to happen when a person is more relaxed, usually when they’re trying to get to sleep. This can understandably have an effect on sleep, making sufferers feel exhausted and anxious about getting enough sleep.
Primarily consisting of an overwhelming urge to move your legs, other common symptoms can include unpleasant creeping or crawling sensations in your thighs, calves, and feet, as well as involuntary jerking movements. Symptoms can range in severity. While the cause is often not obvious, it can run in families. Making healthy lifestyle changes, such as improving your sleep habits, quitting smoking, and exercising regularly are all recommended to help. For more severe cases, your GP may recommend medication or iron supplements.
Sleepwalking is when someone performs a series of actions, including walking and roaming about, while they’re asleep. The person will likely have their eyes open at the time and may appear clumsy and confused. More common in children and teenagers, sleepwalking can occur in adults too. Certain conditions, such as panic attacks, can increase the risk of sleepwalking.
Also known as bruxism, involuntary teeth grinding or jaw clenching can lead to dental damage and headaches. For some, this happens as a result of mental health conditions like anxiety and depression. Recreational drugs and prescription medication can also lead to teeth grinding.
Experiencing sleep paralysis can be frightening. Those who experience it may wake up and find themselves unable to move. Others have also reported feeling like there is someone else in their room, overwhelming feelings of fear, or a sensation like someone is pushing down on them. Sleep experts say this often occurs during the REM phase of sleep when sleep is disrupted during a dream.
The body releases hormones to relax the body when we sleep to ensure we don’t act out our dream and when we’re dreaming, these hormones are at work. So when we’re woken up mid-dream, it can take a while for the body to regain its ability to move. Someone with sleep paralysis will be conscious in their mind, but unable to move their body. While this can be frightening, it doesn’t cause harm to the body.
Sleep paralysis has also been linked with a range of other conditions, including insomnia, narcolepsy, PTSD, general anxiety disorder, and panic disorders. Those with disrupted sleeping patterns (due to work shifts, jet lag, or an inconsistent sleep schedule) or a family history of sleep paralysis can also be affected.
Increasing the amount of exercise you do, setting a regular bedtime, and getting six to eight hours of sleep a night can all help. Working with a hypnotherapist to address any underlying anxiety can also be beneficial.