When Counting Sheep Isn’t Cutting It: Managing Sleeping Difficulties
Few things are as distressing as wanting to be asleep, trying to fall asleep, yet feeling utterly powerless over your ability to fall asleep and having little success. You look over at the clock again and another hour has passed, yet you’re STILL awake.
Why are you having sleeping difficulties?
- There can be any number of reasons why you may have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep. Here is an incomplete list:
- Having (or anticipating) a particularly stressful day or even a day when you’ve been overstimulated, perhaps even in a good way, can affect your sleep.
- What you consume throughout the day, whether substances, caffeine, or something in our diet can have an impact on sleep.
- If your typical schedule gets a bit disrupted, such as by travel, especially if you are someone sensitive to disruption, your sleep may similarly be affected.
- If you tend to have an irregular sleep schedule, take naps during the day to compensate for little nighttime sleep, your sleep will be affected.
- Many people may require time to wind down at the end of the day, yet have inadequately scheduled for that.
- If you tend to work on your laptop in bed, this can have sleep consequences.
- If you are affected by symptoms of depression or anxiety, sleeplessness just may be one of these unwanted symptoms.
- Furthermore, if you are experiencing health-related issues, whether it be illness-related discomfort, pain, or another sleep-related condition that interferes with quality sleep, these are all factors associated with disturbed sleep.
Certainly disturbed sleep can happen in the absence of factors listed above. Sometimes disturbed sleep can take on a life of its own.
How do you know whether it’s just “trouble sleeping” or if it is insomnia?
Insomnia is characterized by a preoccupation with thoughts and worries about not getting enough sleep that is associated with difficulty falling asleep or maintaining the sleep. The concern, of course, is not completely irrational. Sleep is essential to our well-being and to our health. We are constantly reminded of the importance of getting enough sleep for our bodies and for our ability to function during the day. We see the headlines screaming how sleep deprivation affects so many aspects of our functioning. But worrying about getting enough sleep is itself its own problem because it often becomes be self-perpetuating.
Should you seek help for this?
The bottom line is that if your sleep is increasingly distressful to you and you are having difficulty managing it on your own, it can be a wise idea to seek help. There are many ways to effectively manage sleeping difficulties. There are medications and several therapies and techniques, such as cognitive-behavioral therapies, meditation, relaxation, and acupuncture, that many people find beneficial or curative. As everyone is different, the approach for treating each individual should take into account individual preferences and all relevant considerations.
Part of the treatment of sleep disturbances or insomnia is understanding the issues that contribute to the problems. Gaining a better understanding of what is causing your insomnia can certainly be accomplished through therapy. With a more complete understanding about the root causes of the sleeping issue, the issue will be more likely to be treated effectively.
How to talk to your doctor about your sleep?
Sometimes it seems that talking about sleeping difficulties with your doctor or therapist can be vague, and often these concerns get swept aside if there are other concerns that are perceived to be more of an issue. Thus, it can be helpful to prepare what you want to say in advance of this appointment. Things you’ll want to talk about in your appointment include the history of your sleep concerns and details than help the professional understand what you are experiencing. Come to your appointment ready to describe the following:
How long have you had trouble sleeping?
Do you have trouble falling asleep, staying asleep, or do you wake up too early and are not able to fall back asleep?
What time do you go to bed, wake up, typically? Do you nap during the day?
How many times a week is your sleep like this?
Have you had any major changes or significant stress recently (such as a breakup, financial troubles, employment stress)?
What do you do when you can’t sleep?
Are you getting out of bed, and if so, what are you then doing? Have you found things that help, and other things that you think do not help?
What is happening inside your mind when you can’t sleep? Do you lie awake feeling anxious or worrying about responsibilities and tasks? Do you lie awake worrying about not being able to sleep?
What is your sleep environment like:
Do you sleep alone or with a partner? Is your room dark and quiet? Is your bed comfortable? Is there an animal in the bed?
Identifying and understanding both the contributing and reinforcing factors of your sleeping problems will best inform the most appropriate treatment approach(es) and therefore enable meaningful improvements in your sleep. It is important to note that, depending on the approach, achieving desired change may not happen (literally) overnight, so it is important to be patient. Furthermore, it certainly will take thought and effort to maintain positive gains and not fall back into old habits which have been quietly sabotaging your night of quality sleep to this point. Just as with most challenges, patience, understanding, persistence, and self-compassion will go a long way in reducing sleepless nights.