It is not uncommon to have a restless night's sleep. In fact, it happens to most people about once a year. Everyone has concerns and normal worries that creep into their sleep cycle. It is part of life and virtually impossible to avoid.
But what happens when one restless night follows another, then another, and so on? It is one thing to have a few days of interrupted sleep, but another to have chronic sleep disturbances. Most commonly, sleep irregularity known as insomnia. Chronic insomnia can become a health concern. It is marked by difficulty falling asleep and staying asleep, or by waking up too early.
Insomnia manifests and presents in different ways. People who have insomnia find it difficult to fall asleep, frequently awaken in the middle of the night and have trouble going back to sleep. They also wake up too early in the morning and feel tired when they get up. Daytime fatigue and low energy are commonly experienced, along with a lack of focus, poor memory, and reduced coping skills.
If it takes someone more than 30 minutes to fall asleep, or if you are awake 30 minutes or more during the night at least three times a week – for a month or more – you are most likely suffering from insomnia.
According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, approximately 50–70 million Americans have sleep-wake disorders. The impact can be devastating for its sufferers. Insomnia can interfere with mind-body regulation. Most notably, mood and judgment are affected, and it can also be a symptom of anxiety and depression.
Insomnia is the result of multiple factors. The primary reason for sleep-wake disturbance is stress. However, some physical conditions and medications can interfere with our sleep rhythm. These include conditions such as sleep apnea, overactive thyroid, and gastrointestinal problems like gastroesophageal reflux.
Additionally, the sleep-wake cycle is affected by lifestyle choices. A lack of physical activity or excessive substance abuse, for example, will knock our sleep off-kilter. Other factors to consider when it comes to sleep disturbance include shift-work, jet lag, caffeine and alcohol consumption, vitamin D deficiency, and keeping the bedroom temperature too warm at night.
For marriage and family therapists, it is crucial to assess sleep-wake patterns in clients. Insomnia significantly affects mood and can be a trigger for depression and anxiety. And while medication may offer temporary relief, it is not a long-term solution.
The systemic approach that is a hallmark of how MFTs think and work with clients offers an integrative and holistic way to develop a treatment plan.
Here are some tips that an MFT may suggest to help manage your insomnia:
- Schedule a visit with your primary care physician to rule out any underlying physical causes like sleep apnea.
- Develop a routine that promotes healthy sleep habits. The use of "sleep hygiene" techniques can positively impact sleep-wake cycles by shifting any negative patterns that support poor sleep.
- Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) helps target the thoughts and actions that disrupt sleep. CBT may include relaxation techniques, as well as establishing a sleep schedule that restricts the time one spends in bed awake.
- Developing and implementing the practice of self-care positively correlates to better sleep habits. Mindfulness and meditation, for example, are holistic tools that help reduce anxiety and depressive thoughts. Regular exercise, reducing your caffeine intake, staying hydrated, and eating well is essential to overall well-being, which includes meeting our sleep needs.
Treating insomnia is critical to staying healthy. If you are struggling with sleep, seek professional help. Rest is an integral part of self-regulation, both emotionally and physically. In short, a good night's sleep is a contribution to our happiness bank and well worth the investment.