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Sleep Problems

There is nothing worse than not being able to get a good night’s sleep and this blog looks at types of sleep problems, why we need sleep and the different kinds of sleep. It also explains why it is important to jump out of bed fairly soon after waking in the morning, even if we don’t much feel like it! The following blogs will look at what can disturb our sleep and how we can establish a really good sleep routine so we can wake up feeling re-energised and ready to face the day.

The odd disturbed night we can quickly recover from but for some people insomnia becomes the norm. There are five main types of sleep problem – you may find you have more than one:

  1. Getting off to sleep – you may feel absolutely exhausted as you get ready for bed. But as soon as you get into bed, you can’t go off to sleep. You are restless. You toss and turn. Your body may be tired but your mind is not. You get more and more annoyed and stressed.
  2. Staying asleep – you might get off to sleep OK but then wake up at different times of the night. You may find it hard to get back to sleep and again lie awake tossing and turning.
  3. Waking too early in the morning – you find yourself waking at 4am or 5am and know that you are not going to get any more sleep even though you want to.
  4. Sleeping too much – no matter how much sleep you get, you never feel it is enough. You may feel that you don’t want to face the day so stay in bed.
  5. Poor sleep quality – you feel that you don’t get a good night’s sleep even if you have been asleep for 7 or 8 hours. You just don’t feel refreshed by your sleep and wake up still tired.

We all take sleep for granted until we have problems with it and then we quickly remember how desirable a good night’s sleep is. All human abilities (like paying attention, memory recall and learning) are made worse by poor sleep and there is an intimate relationship between sleep and many psychological conditions such as depression and anxiety.

Why do we need sleep?

It can seem surprising that human beings, who can be so full of life, energy, plans and activities, can, at a certain point each day, disengage from life, lie down and apparently become oblivious to the outside world for up to eight hours. (We spend up to one-third of our life asleep.) When we sleep we are vulnerable to attack, since we are no longer aware of what is going on and are in no position to defend ourselves. Yet all mammals, birds and even cold-blooded reptiles sleep so there must be good reasons for it.

Types of sleep

Research has shown that there are two very distinct kinds of sleep: REM (rapid eye movement sleep when we dream) and non-REM sleep, also called slow wave sleep (SWS).

Slow wave sleep is the dynamic, constructive time of physical healing and growth for animal organisms, a recuperative stage where the mind/body system rebuilds itself after a hard day surviving in the world. Substances ingested during the awake period are synthesised into the complex proteins of living tissue; growth hormones are secreted to assist with the healing of muscles and repairing general wear and tear in tissues; the immune system is boosted.

By contrast, in REM sleep large amounts of the brain’s energy reserves are expending on dreaming. Dreaming is clearly performing a very important function. Brain wave patterns measured by an electro-encephalogram (EEG) during sleep are similar to waking brain wave patterns. REM sleep occupies about twenty-five percent of a healthy adult’s sleep time and dreaming in this state is the deepest trance state known.

A useful fact to know about waking up

A few minutes after we physically get out of bed and start moving around, a burst of cortisol (a stress hormone) is released in the brain. This release of cortisol happens to give you the effort to get some food to eat and thereby replenish glucose supplies. So if you’re lying in bed feeling miserable and tired and need to sleep more, try getting up, walking around, making a cup of tea and a slice of toast and then see if you feel you need more sleep.

Need some advice and support?

If you are experiencing sleep problems or indeed any other emotional issues or life challenges and would like to talk things over in complete confidentiality, call Alison Winfield, Mindfully Well Counselling Cork on 087 9934541.


Book a counselling session today!



See also: Sleep Hygiene, Sleep Well, Depression and Sleep


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