When I start working with someone, one of the first questions I ask them is how much sleep they are getting. This is for two reasons: first, if someone is having disrupted or not enough sleep, that is often a symptom of deeper psychological problems like chronic stress, anxiety or depression. And second, not getting the sleep we need – especially on an ongoing basis – can make problems like these much worse.
It's common sense that we all need to sleep (different people needing more or less, but probably around 7.5 to 8 hours for most of us) but researchers are increasingly understanding the role of sleep and what is happening in our brains and bodies during our night-time rest. For example, we now know that dreaming is the way the brain processes and stores all of the important information we absorb during the day. Your brain has to sift through vast amounts of information, discarding most of it and storing all the things it thinks you will need at some point. So if we don't have enough nocturnal downtime, or our sleep is broken, we don't get enough REM (rapid eye movement) sleep, which is when we dream.
Sleep and your mood
Anyone who has kids knows only too well the impact that sleep deprivation has on our ability to function throughout the day. I often think that you don't know the value of sleep until you have a small baby, when it becomes like gold dust! Bleary-eyed parents will find it harder to concentrate, have perspective on their problems and make decisions; and their short-term memory will also be affected. Unfortunately, they will probably also be more impatient, snappy and irritable, as well as being prone to low mood and potentially depression.
Humans need sufficient sleep, rest and downtime – our bodies and brains are hard-wired for them, just as they need oxygen, food and water to survive. So if you are suffering from insomnia, you need to take that seriously. It could be related to (or causing) a psychological problem; it could also be draining your energy and joie de vivre, making life seem a bit bleak and joyless.
The good news is that fairly straightforward things like exercise, diet, caffeine and alcohol consumption, as well as sleep hygiene can make a huge difference to the amount and quality of sleep you are getting. So if you are struggling to sleep please don't suffer in silence – do see your GP, or get help from me or another therapist.
And if you would like to make an appointment to see me, email firstname.lastname@example.org