Friday, May 9, 2008

Sleeping Problems and Mental Health

Sleeping Problems
Sleeping Problems and Mental Health
by David McEvoy

People who are suffering from depression or anxiety often have trouble sleeping. Indeed, one of the first signs of depression is insomnia, although lack of sleep by itself is not thought to cause depression.

Regardless of the cause, sleeping problems of any kind are not pleasant and can significantly lower quality of life whether or not depression is present. Some of the more common types of sleep problems include insomnia, sleep apnoea and snoring.


Insomnia is a condition whereby a person has difficulty in getting to sleep, or has no problem in getting to sleep but awakens often during the night, or who wakes up too early in the morning. Another type of insomnia is sleep state misperception where a person has managed to sleep during the night but believes that they didn't.

It's important to note that not everyone requires the same amount of sleep but a standard 8 hours a night give or take an hour or so, is probably the ideal for most people to feel alert and energetic throughout the day.

There are different types of insomnia too. Sleeplessness that occurs for only a few nights is known as transient insomnia, or if it goes on for a couple of weeks, short term insomnia, or when it persists for over a month with difficulties experienced most nights it is classed as chronic insomnia. Some factors which could influence an individual's ability to get a good night's sleep include:

- Too much caffeine during the day
- Some types of medication
- Anxiety, stress and worry
- Depression
- Physical pain
- Noise
- Changes in temperature
- Jet lag
- Underlying physical or mental illness
- Too much alcohol before bed

Obviously, any treatment for insomnia will ultimately depend upon its underlying cause. For example, if the insomnia is caused by medication, the problems may cease if the medication is stopped or changed. Similarly, dealing with any underlying anxiety, stress or worry may resolve the problem. Sometimes it's not possible to identify the cause of insomnia and in some severe cases sleeping pills on a temporary basis may help, however, these should only be taken under medical supervision as there are potential side effects and contraindications to be considered.

Sleep Apnoea

Sleep apnoea can be a potentially serious sleeping disorder which is characterised by short periods during the night where breathing stops. Symptoms associated with sleep apnoea include loud snoring, morning headaches, night sweats, insomnia, jerking or twitching during the night, waking up gasping for breath and getting up to go to the toilet frequently during the night. These symptoms can vary from mild to severe.

Sleep apnoea is caused by some sort of obstruction in the airways, the throat or nasal passages which could be a blocked nose and too much tissue being present, the tongue slipping back into the throat, enlarged tonsils, or even the angle of the jaw. One of the most significant factors though is being overweight.

If you suspect that you or your partner suffers from sleep apnoea it's important to speak to a doctor for a proper diagnosis and advice. If the problem is mild then it might just be a case of losing weight, sleeping on your side, and not drinking alcohol in the evening, however, if it is severe then there are other options available including the wearing of a special mask. People who suffer from sleep apnoea have a shortage of oxygen reaching the brain and may also have an increased risk of strokes and heart disease as well as other health problems.


Snoring is extremely common and is caused by vibration of the palate and the uvula whilst breathing during sleep. If the snoring is regular, rhythmic and not very loud and you wake up feeling alert and refreshed, then there is probably very little to worry about other than possibly disturbing others who are trying to get to sleep.

If on the other hand the snoring is loud, accompanied by snorts and gasps and periods of interrupted breathing, then you should speak to your doctor as it would indicate sleep apnoea.

Ways to improve sleep

- Talking therapies can be useful in highlighting ways to cope with any anxiety and/or depression, which in turn will improve sleep

- Learn some relaxation and breathing techniques, take up yoga or meditation, These may help you to relax and unwind and make falling asleep and staying asleep much easier

- Increasing the amount of physical exercise not only improves health in general it helps the blood flow to the brain, relieves stress and anxiety, makes you feel good, and facilitates a better night's sleep

- Avoid the temptation to lie in bed watching television and if you do awake during the night and can't get back to sleep, try getting up for a while

- Avoid drinking too much tea and coffee in the evening or drinking alcohol just before going to bed

- Remove any computers or television sets from the bedroom and make your bed a place that is only used for sleeping and for sex

Depression and anxiety are serious mental health conditions that can strike anyone at anytime. For more information about depression and selp help come and visit

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