Insomnia is defined as being a habitual, or regular, inability to sleep.
With regards to anxiety, depression and stress, insomnia is not only caused by these conditions, but it further exacerbates them too creating a vicious circle.
What can I do to help with my insomnia?
Improve your sleep hygiene
Sleep hygiene is a term used to describe a holistic approach to sleeping encompassing who you are as an individual and your sleep environment. Improving sleep hygiene involves thinking about where you sleep, how you sleep and what may work best for you. Sometimes this will involve a degree of experimentation, for example, do you sleep better with the window open or closed?
Stick to a routine of sleeping and waking
Research has shown that we are biologically predisposed to sleep and wake at the same time each day, ideally in synch with the setting and rising of the sun. Whilst the latter is a far cry from modern life, coming up with a routine and sticking to it can be extremely beneficial to both your sleep patterns as well as your physical health.
We all know that caffeine and alcohol will impact on the quantity and quality of our sleep. However, watching a disturbing drama right before going to bed – or the news – can have an enormous impact on the ability for us to get to sleep. It is much better to consume the news in the morning when we have the mental capacity and waking hours to digest it.
Why do anxiety and depression make insomnia worse?
Anxiety and depression are two seemingly different mental health problems that frequently find themselves side-by-side in the same sentence. This is because they are essentially two-sides of the same coin.
Anxiety is an uncomfortable (at times, unbearable) feeling that gives us the sense that all is not well with the world. It is an ordinary element of being a human being and many scholars believe that we are ‘cursed’ with anxiety due to our (largely unconscious) awareness that we are going to die.
Anxiety causes restlessness and many people deal with anxiety by channeling it into activity – something that fails when it comes to going to bed. Anxiety is often described as ‘free-floating’ and will seek to attach itself to something. We can then convince ourselves that the ‘thing’ our anxiety has attached to is the real problem, however, this is rarely the case.
Depression is a state of inertia but an uncomfortable one. Anxiety (and stress) can have the function of protecting us from depression, however, eventually anxiety will give way to the hopelessness of depression. One may think that sleep would come easily in a state of depression but this is often not the case as hopelessness can feel unbearable.
Can counselling or psychotherapy help with insomnia?
If a client presented with insomnia than I would want to understand what may be causing the insomnia and to work with the client to gain a deeper understanding of what their feelings may be telling them – particularly any anxiety or depression.
Whilst anxiety is a normal element of being a human being, it should not be debilitating and an ideal is to engage in a meaningful life whereby the anxiety is channelled in a healthy way.
Alongside this is a deepening of the relationship with ourselves in order to learn to better tolerate difficult feelings without becoming overwhelmed by them.
Mark Vahrmeyer, UKCP Registered, BHP Co-founder is an integrative psychotherapist with a wide range of clinical experience from both the public and private sectors. He currently sees both individuals and couples, primarily for ongoing psychotherapy. Mark is available at the Lewes and Brighton & Hove Practices.