Getting enough good quality sleep - we all know how important it is. When we're deprived even slightly on a regular basis it feels like it negatively affects everything we do. I've had my fair share of sleepless nights over the past year (new baby) so didn't miss the opportunity to listen to a recent podcast by Dr Mike called 'Insomnia Cause & Effect'
Here's what I got out of it and the surprising best treatment for it.
Firstly, there are different stages and types of insomnia.
Short term / acute insomnia would last a couple weeks and if lasting over a month then it would be termed chronic. Some people find it hard to get to sleep while others wake during the night or very early and can't go back to sleep. Some reviews suggest women may suffer more than men.
Insomnia can be categorised by cause such as mental health issues, snoring and restlessness, chronic disease or pain including breathing difficulties and then issues relating to life stages such as having a new baby. It is also common for older people to find it more difficult to get as much sleep.
What about stress?
Dr Mike preferred to focus on the word 'worry' and described an interesting scenario suffered by worriers. As you're falling asleep in that half awake stage your worrying mind picks up on a real life issue which becomes the trigger for something much worse. In the sleepy stages and not thinking clearly the real life worry can be amplified into a nightmarish drama that is actually not a reality but will cause you to wake feeling it is and hence make you feel worse about the situation. A wise piece of advice was to have a form of mantra to answer your worries in the event of waking mid sleep.
For instance if you had a big presentation to prepare for delivery in a few days time and you wake one night worrying about - rather than surrendering to the 'stress' of it calmly state your positive position such as; "I have 3 days to prepare, I have made a good start, I have time." This is very sensible indeed.
Does exercise help?
Dr Mike mentioned a study with sedentary people who were exercised a few times a week for 30-40minutes claiming to add more quality sleep time than sleeping pills did.
However, exercise just before going to be is not recommended.
Negative effects of insomnia
It all sounded quite disastrous actually which included issues such as weight gain, increase in potential for road or industrial accidents, compounding mental health outcomes and most other diseases too. Generally poor quality sleep is considered to have a negative influence on most quality of life factors.
What is the optimum hours of sleep each night?
The latest statistic is apparently 7.5 hrs, suggesting that anything much over or under may result in a 15% increase in mortality rate. But Dr Mike stressed that it is best not to fuss about the amount of hours too much or get hung up on any single target number. This can of course be another cause for getting a bad night sleep after all. If you have a bad night tonight then chances are you'll have a better one the next night.
What is sleep hygiene?
This is all about making the bedroom fit for purpose - that is sleeping!
Dr Mike describes many patient scenarios where their bedrooms have turned into very busy places that the Tv couch in the dining room becomes the place of choice for a good nights sleep. The modern bedroom comes equipped with flat screen Tv's, mobile phones and iPads - devices of hyper stimulation - not conducive to a restful nights sleep.
Do's and don'ts
- Don't clock watch - get up and do something productive instead and go back to bed when you're tired again.
- Do make your bedroom quiet and dark
- Don't engage in heavy discussion or arguments before bed
- Don't drink alcohol before bed. Many people think they sleep better but the quality of sleep is greatly disturbed.
- Don't exercise before bed with one exception - sex is safe. Phew!
So what is the best treatment for insomnia?
Most people would say sleeping pills. But did you know that these supposedly only add 25 minutes on average to your sleep period. I was surprised by this one as I would have imagined it to be more.
Dr Mike went on to say that sleeping pills only really pose an addiction problem to those with an addictive personality. However sleeping pills are known to cause some side effects such as short term memory loss and bowel irritation.
Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) was claimed to be the best and most successful treatment for insomnia. Helping the patient understand certain behaviours and habits that may be contributing to the cause of insomnia and guiding them to develop more positive thinking and actions to overcome is the ideal way suggested to tackle those sleepless nights.
By Simon Coghlan MSc, BSc Hons, DipMedAc, MISCP
Simon holds a Master of Science Degree in Physiotherapy and is a member of the Irish Society of Chartered Physiotherapists. A post graduate Diploma in Medical Acupuncture entitles him to accredited membership of the British Medical Acupuncture Society. Simon specialises in the integration of medical acupuncture techniques with manual therapy and therapeutic exercise for the treatment of musculo-skeletal pain and dysfunction.