Sleep disorder treatment

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This page was clinically reviewed by Dr Liam Parsonage (BA, MBBS, MRCPsych) in July 2022.

Sleep disorders are characterised by a frequent inability to achieve good quality sleep. If you have a sleep disorder, you'll commonly find it difficult to fall or stay asleep and fail to feel refreshed and rested the next day.

The most common form of sleep disorder is insomnia, which is 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".

If you're finding that your sleep problems are becoming more frequent, and are having a detrimental impact on your ability to function on a day-to-day basis, it may be that you've developed a sleep disorder and need expert therapy.

What is a sleep disorder?

A sleep disorder is when your routine pattern of sleep is disrupted to the extent that your overall physical and mental health can be affected. Sleep disorders are common, with around 6% of adults, or over 3.5 million people in the UK, reporting feeling sleepy during the day.

While it’s perfectly normal to experience restless sleep every so often in relation to the stress and strains of modern life, such as worrying about a meeting or an important exam the next day, regularly struggling to sleep at night and waking up feeling excessively tired is a more serious issue.

Trying to function at school or work when you have limited amounts of energy can become increasingly frustrating and debilitating, affecting your ability to concentrate during everyday tasks. This can lead to accidents, deteriorating academic or job performance, and even place a strain on your relationships.

Despite feeling exhausted at night, a sleep disorder such as insomnia can prevent you from falling asleep. This leads to decreased energy and an inability to handle stress, which can increase the chances of a poor night’s sleep. Therefore, it can become difficult to break the cycle of an unhealthy sleep routine. Even if you've found it difficult to sleep well for a significant period of time, to the point where poor rest may begin to feel like an expected part of your daily routine, it's never too late to make adjustments to your lifestyle.

Through observing symptoms and sleep patterns, as well as discussing any possible underlying causes of poor sleep, you can begin to improve your quality of life and get the rest you need to function correctly during the day.

Examples of common sleep disorders include:


Insomnia is an inability or delay in getting to sleep, or being unable to sleep for a suitable amount of time once you do drift off. Insomnia is the most common sleep complaint, with a higher rate of reported insomnia in women.  Approximately one in three women suffer from insomnia at some point in their lives. This may be because women are more likely to get 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. It's frequently associated with mood disorders such as anxiety or depression, as well as other health conditions, stress, jet lag, high caffeine intake, and some medications as a possible side effect.

Sleep apnoea

Occurs when there are pauses in breathing or when breathing temporarily stops repeatedly for short periods of seconds or a few minutes during your sleep. This disruption can cause exhaustion and irritability the following day, and is a serious disorder which can be life-threatening if it's not medically treated. Treatment at Priory can help people affected to focus on any associated mental health problems which might co-exist with sleep apnoea.


Describes uncontrollable daytime sleepiness which can cause involuntary and unpredictable periods of sleep when at work, driving, or even in the middle of a conversation. This happens due to a problem with the part of your brain that regulates sleeping and waking, which would usually respond to triggers such as brightness in order to prepare your body for more socially appropriate waking and sleeping cycles.

As many people with narcolepsy can experience symptoms of depression, due to its impact on daily life, psychotherapy and counselling at Priory can help you cope with the effects of the disorder, and help you to learn techniques to managing sleep cycles as best you can.                    

Restless leg syndrome (RLS)

This is an urge to move your legs and sometimes arms during the night, and is often brought on by a general feeling of being uncomfortable, including tingling or aching sensations experienced when lying down. Learning techniques to manage levels of stress and improving the amount of sleep you get can reduce associated symptoms.

Signs and symptoms of a sleep disorder

While sleep is a subjective phenomenon, with each of us needing different amounts of sleep each night in order to function effectively, research shows that people who regularly achieve less than 3.5 hours sleep per night are likely to experience negative consequences as a result of sleep deprivation. Comprehensive therapy and treatment can help to improve this.

  • Difficulty falling or staying asleep - often linked to physical conditions like pain or sleep apnoea
  • Unusual breathing patterns - indicative of disorders like sleep apnoea
  • Unusual or unpleasant urges to move while falling asleep - often a sign of RLS
  • Unintentional changes to your sleep/wake schedule - could indicate circadian rhythm disorders
  • Interrupted sleep - may be caused by physical discomfort, such as an uncomfortable bed
  • Waking up early in the morning and not being able to get back to sleep - can be due to physical health issues
  • Waking up tired and feeling un-refreshed - often a result of poor quality sleep due to physical disturbances
  • Daytime fatigue and drowsiness - can be linked to psychological stress or mental health disorders
  • Strong urge to take naps during the day - often a response to psychological fatigue
  • Unusual movement or other experiences while asleep - can include sleepwalking or nightmares, often linked to psychological factors
  • Irritability or anxiety - commonly associated with psychological aspects of sleep disorders
  • Impaired performance at work or school - often a result of cognitive impacts from psychological sleep disturbances
  • Lack of concentration and indecisiveness - can stem from mental fatigue due to disrupted sleep
  • Depression - often both a cause and effect of sleep disorders
  • Weight gain - can be linked to psychological stress and changes in mood and behaviour
  • Being awake for most of the night, despite wanting to sleep - can be influenced by psychological conditions like anxiety or depression
  • Struggling to complete day-to-day tasks and reduced productivity - often a result of psychological exhaustion
  • Agitation - can be a psychological response to chronic sleep deprivation

Causes of a sleep disorder

Sleep can be affected by a range of factors, including environmental influences as well as your general mental and physical health. The following may all increase the likelihood that you may develop a sleep disorder:

  • Existing mental health problems (for example, depression, stress, bipolar disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety)
  • Certain physical health conditions (for example, respiratory conditions, chronic pain, arthritis)
  • Certain medications (for example, steroid medication, medication for epilepsy and blood pressure, certain antidepressants)
  • Poor sleeping environment
  • Inconsistent sleep routine
  • Napping during the day
  • Shift work
  • Smoking cigarettes, especially in the evening
  • Consuming alcohol prior to going to bed
  • Drinking too much caffeine, especially in the evening
  • Recreational drug use

Further possible factors which may contribute to developing a sleep disorder include:


Studies have shown that sleep disorders such as narcolepsy, which is caused by a part of the brain controlling sleep and wakefulness not functioning correctly, may be due to an inherited problem from birth.

Working unsociable hours

Despite your biological clock making you feel sleepy during darkened hours, if your job requires you to work during the evening, then you can't fall asleep during these natural hours. This could contribute to you developing a sleep disorder as your most energetic part of the day is at a time when your body naturally wants to ‘wind down’.


If you're taking certain types of drugs, such as some antidepressants or blood pressure medication, the time of day that you take this, as well as side effects of these drugs can create problems with sleep. It's important to remember that everyone reacts to these drugs differently, and it may take time for them to settle in your system enough for any unwanted side effects to wear off.


It's thought that around half of adults over the age of 65 have symptoms of a sleep disorder. This could be due to your brain adjusting to old age, or taking account of the fact that you may experience a greater number of health problems and general aches and pains, which could lead to poorer quality of sleep in comparison to when you were younger.

Treatment for sleep disorders at Priory

If you think that you or someone you know may be suffering from a sleep disorder, it's important to know you're not alone, and the most crucial first step is to get support. We have a number of expert consultant psychiatrists who have lots of experience in treating sleep disorders.

Our expert team at Priory recognises that everyone experiences insomnia and sleep disorders in unique ways. That's why we develop bespoke programmes to tackle your challenges in a way that results in the best outcomes for you.

The first step in your journey will be to receive a detailed assessment, which will help your allocated specialist to determine whether or not your sleep problems are being influenced or caused by any other co-existing conditions that may need treating. Your specialist will then be able to direct your treatment according to your specific requirements.

As a next step, our highly qualified specialists will teach you simple behavioural and lifestyle changes that you can make, in order to improve your ability to achieve consistent, good quality sleep. These changes may include sleep hygiene measures and regular relaxation exercises. These steps are vital in good sleep management as people need to take an active role in their therapy and treatment, if progress is to be maintained.

Our experts also use cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) as a means of tackling the symptoms associated with sleep disorders, and addressing any underlying problems. CBT is widely used in sleep disorder therapy, and works by addressing the misconceptions, attitudes and unhelpful behaviours that may be contributing to your sleep disorder, before encouraging you to view situations in healthier ways. This technique has been found to be highly effective as a means of helping people to achieve a consistent sleep pattern and improve their health and wellbeing.

Four ways you can improve your sleep

When you're living with a sleep disorder, it's important that you get professional help and guidance to help manage your stress levels, alongside undergoing a treatment programme to treat underlying mental health conditions, such as anxiety or depression, which may be causing you to have difficulty sleeping.

Despite this, maintaining a positive daytime and bedtime routine can ensure that you continue to be free from the symptoms of a sleep disorder and are able to live a happy and healthy life.

Listed below are four lifestyle changes you can make which may improve your quality of sleep and overall wellbeing:

1) Regular sleep hours - one of the best ways to improve symptoms of a sleep disorder is to ensure you go to bed and wake up at similar hours. Regularly staying up late or waking up at different times each day can make it more difficult to programme your body into getting and staying asleep long enough to feel refreshed and energised the following day.

2) Create a relaxing sleeping environment - the room where you sleep should always be as comfortable as possible in order to prompt good quality sleep. Having pets in the room can be disruptive if they often move around when you're sleeping, while temperature, light and noise levels should be controlled to allow you to rest without any distractions. It's also important that you don’t stimulate your brain too much before sleeping, including interacting with your phone or watching TV.

3) Exercise regularly - while exercise may not seem to directly impact your ability to get to or stay asleep, regular exercise such as biking, swimming or walking can help reduce stress and release ‘happy’ chemicals in the brain known as endorphins. The muscle relaxing properties of endorphins can help reduce tension and worry, which might be preventing you from getting enough rest.  Try and avoid exercising around bedtime though, as this can be overly stimulating.

4) Be creative - if you enjoy expressing your innermost thoughts through writing, drawing or playing an instrument, this can help reduce stress associated with work, school or personal relationships that can cause problems with sleep. Writing down your worries and making a plan for the following day can also stop you overthinking at night, which can prevent you getting to sleep.

Private medical insurance

We are a registered and approved provider for all of the UK's leading private medical insurers. All of the services we offer at Priory can be funded through private medical insurance. This includes:

  • Mental health treatment
  • Addiction treatment
  • Eating disorder treatment

All clients will have access to our highly skilled and accredited clinicians, many of whom are published experts in their fields of treatment. Whatever your requirements, we're committed to working with you to get your life back on track.

Registered and approved provider

We are a registered and approved provider for all of the UK's leading private medical insurers.

Sleep disorder treatment near me

We have sleep disorder treatment centres located throughout the country, ensuring that you can access the support you need in a location that's convenient for you. To find your nearest treatment centre, please use the search form below.

Contact us to make an enquiry or for more information

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