Sleep disorders

Wellbeing requires a sensible balance of diet, exercise and sleep. Unfortunately, in our modern day hectic lives, the importance of sleep is being marginalised more and more. This can result in serious consequences for our physical and mental health, as well as social life, family relationships and productivity at work.

Sleep disorders are common - around 6% of adults (over 3.5 million people) in the UK report feeling sleepy during the day. Insomnia is the most common complaint about sleep and there is a higher rate of reported insomnia in women, with approximately one in three women suffering from insomnia at some point in their lives. This may be because women are more likely to seek help for unsatisfactory sleep than men. Insomnia seems to become more prevalent with increasing age, although children and adolescents can also be affected by it.

What is insomnia?

Insomnia is clinically defined by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine as the ‘inability to initiate or maintain sleep or to obtain good sleep quality despite adequate opportunity to do so, accompanied by significant daytime consequences of poor sleep’. Insomnia is highly subjective and individual sleep requirements vary considerably. Scientific studies have found that anybody who regularly sleeps for less than three and a half hours or more than eight and a half hours per night, runs a risk of increasing their mortality by around 15% when compared to those who average seven hours' sleep per night.

Causes of sleep disorders

Sleep can be affected by your mental health, and common causes of sleep problems can include:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Stress
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)

Symptoms of insomnia

Insomnia can be secondary to environmental, medical or psychiatric conditions but in many cases it can also occur without an obvious, identifiable cause. The symptoms of insomnia can vary between individuals and can include:

  • Difficulty falling asleep - a common symptom of insomnia which could be the result of excessive worry or an anxiety disorder, depression, physical pain or simply an irregular sleep habit
  • Interrupted sleep - may be caused by an uncomfortable bed, nightmares or sleep apnoea (interrupted breathing). Frequently, people are not always aware of symptoms that may occur while they are asleep such as breathing difficulties, snoring and leg movements
  • Early morning wakening
  • Waking up tired and feeling un-refreshed
  • Poor concentration
  • Day time drowsiness
  • Irritability

Treatment for insomnia

Strategies to improve sleep should initially incorporate quite simple lifestyle and behavioural changes which can include robust sleep hygiene measures and regular relaxation exercises. These are vital in good sleep management as individuals need to take an active role in treatment, if progress is to be maintained. 

  • Various psychological interventions can be helpful, in particular, cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) which can help to address misconceptions, attitudes and unhelpful behaviours, especially for those who have chronic insomnia.
  • A lot of people use ‘alternative’, herbal and over-the-counter remedies for sleep which are readily available and which are therefore considered to be ‘safe’. However, there is much ignorance and misinformation about the actual safety of these substances. Some people fall into the habit of drinking alcohol to induce drowsiness but this can lead to dependence, addiction and other associated problems.
  • Prescription hypnotics have also frequently been the treatment of choice for many people with insomnia. However, there is a growing body of evidence that suggests that long term use of these medications can have serious and harmful side effects which include addiction, memory problems and even an increased risk of premature death.

If you suffer from ongoing insomnia that is affecting your quality of life and which has not responded to simple interventions, you might find it helpful to call Priory for help, or  ask your GP to refer you for treatment. We have a number of consultant psychiatrists, including Dr Natasha Bijlani, who is based at The Priory Hospital Roehampton, who have a special interest in treating sleep disorders. You will receive a detailed assessment which will help the doctor to determine whether or not your sleep problems are being influenced or caused by any other co-existing condition that may need treating. The doctor will then be able to direct your treatment according to your specific requirements.

If hypnotic medication is indicated, it can be prescribed for short to medium term relief of symptoms. This will enable you to focus better on learning and mastering various behavioural and psychological methods in either individual or group psychotherapy sessions. If practised regularly, these evidence-based treatments lead to effective resolution of symptoms with longer lasting results than simply taking medication. In certain cases such as addiction to hypnotic medication and severe insomnia, inpatient treatment may be recommended.

For further details on how Priory can provide you with further assistance regarding Sleep disorders, please call 0800 840 3219. For professionals looking to make a referral, please click here