As many as one-in-seven people live with long-term insomnia – whether that be disturbed nights, or hours spent lying in bed wide awake. But it doesn’t have to be that way. With help from expert clinical hypnotherapist Andrew Major we explore the causes of insomnia, and get the low-down on putting sleep problems to bed once and for all
This is an edited version of an article that originally appeared on Happiful
Almost all of us will experience sleep problems at some point in our lives; whether it’s tossing and turning throughout the night, or waking up every couple of hours, losing out on those precious hours of shut-eye can set us back for the day and can easily spiral into mental health problems.
The point at which sleep problems turn into insomnia is when they become regular – over months or years. This could show itself in a number of ways, from finding it hard to fall asleep at night, to waking up regularly through the night, or not being able to fall back to sleep again.
When considering what may be causing insomnia, Andrew Major, a clinical hypnotherapist, points to the close link with mental health. “Some of the most common causes of insomnia are ongoing stress, pressure, anxiety, and depression, which can creep up on us gradually, leading to excess worry and over-thinking – especially when it’s time to sleep,” Andrew explains. “But there may be other psychological reasons causing insomnia, including anger, grief, or trauma.”
According to the Sleep Council, of those who get less than five hours of sleep per night, 21% live with depression and 17% with anxiety. But when it comes to insomnia, it’s a vicious cycle. While mental health problems may be causing sleep problems, lack of sleep can then lead to poor mental health, including low mood, irritability, and problems concentrating – not to mention the added anxiety about not being able to sleep.
“When we don’t get enough sleep it can reduce problem-solving skills and our ability to cope with stressful situations – leaving us feeling overwhelmed by things we’d previously been able to deal with,” says Andrew. “Getting enough sleep helps us build mental and emotional resilience so that we’re able to deal with the demands, challenges – and sometimes adversity – of modern life.”
Clearly, there’s a lot at stake. And yet, only four-in-10 people with insomnia go on to ask for help – something that is particularly common in older people, where 47% believe that nothing can be done to improve their sleep quality.
“Whatever the issue – by taking action to address the underlying causes, and with some simple changes to our daily habits and routines – you can break the cycle of sleepless nights, and learn how to sleep well,” says Andrew.
So, how’s it done? Andrew advises that the first step is to take a good look at your daytime habits. For example, consider:
• How much caffeine do you drink during the day?
• When do you switch off your mobile devices and laptops?
• Do you have time to relax properly before going to bed?
• Do you have a regular and consistent sleeping and waking routine?
• Is your bedroom comfortable, and free from noise and light?
Addressing these areas first can often help narrow down what may be the root cause of our sleep problems. The next point of call is assessing the amount of physical activity we do each day. Regular aerobic activity calms our bodies and minds, releasing feel-good hormones that help us regulate our moods. However, this doesn’t mean that you need to hit the gym for an intensive workout – gentle activity, such as walking, yoga, or gardening, has the same effect.
As a solution-focused hypnotherapist, Andrew’s approach to treating insomnia in sessions includes a type of talking therapy that combines psychotherapy and hypnosis. During hypnosis, the subject goes into a ‘trance’, or a natural relaxed state, using guided relaxation. Once in this relaxed state, it’s then possible to focus on mantras, thoughts and suggestions that can help them to cope with the stress and anxiety that may be causing insomnia. Beyond this, Andrew suggests four key ways to take back the night.
Talk about the positive aspects of the day, and celebrate successes. Your brain triggers thousands of neurons with every thought. Repeating the thought process triggers the same neurons so, when we make a conscious effort to recognise the positive things in life, we build new, helpful thought patterns.
Visualise change and find solutions
What would life be like tomorrow if you slept well? What would you be doing differently? What would friends and colleagues notice about you? Creating a positive expectation, and visualising it happening, will strengthen the likelihood of a positive outcome.
Create good sleep hygiene
Create a plan. Identify the things that are easy to change – such as a regular bedtime and waking time, avoiding stimulants before going to bed (e.g. cigarettes and caffeine), get enough exercise during the day, create a quiet, dark and comfortable bedroom, and remove all electronic screens.
Seek professional support
Seeking out professional support can be a big step, but has many lasting benefits – it’s often the start of real focus and change. Solution-focused hypnotherapy can help you to relieve the symptoms of insomnia in a positive and uplifting way.
With so much of our mental wellness dependent on ensuring that we get good quality sleep, it’s time to start taking shut-eye seriously. And the truth is, it is possible for all of us to get the sleep we need and deserve. Whether it’s making a few small tweaks to your routine, or embarking on a long-term lifestyle change, it’s time to stop counting sheep, and start drifting away to dreamland.