Elizabeth Hancock, Psychological Wellbeing Advisor at Help for Heroes, looks at the importance of a good night’s sleep and how you can beat insomnia.
What is insomnia?
Insomnia is difficulty getting to sleep or staying asleep. Insomnia is a common problem and is thought to affect one in three people, with the elderly being the most affected. Signs of insomnia may include: waking up several times in the night, waking and not able to get back to sleep, feeling tired, poor concentration and feeling irritable.
Insomnia can be associated with poor lifestyle, mental health conditions, physical conditions, stress, anxiety, medication, and poor sleep hygiene. It can last for a short period of time, but for some people it can last for months and even years.
Why is sleep so important?
Sleep is a critical part of our lives for our health and wellbeing. It helps the brain and body to rejuvenate and can regulate our mood, reduce stress, and improve memory.
It may become more difficult to take in new information, concentrate and focus if we are sleep deprived. Research shows that an ongoing lack of sleep has an increased link to heart disease, kidney disease, high blood pressure, diabetes and strokes.
A normal amount of sleep for an adult would be around seven to nine hours, although this is down to the individual and what they feel is enough sleep for them. If you are having trouble sleeping or staying asleep, you can seek professional help from your GP.
Tips to beat insomnia (sleep hygiene):
- Adopt a routine, going to bed and getting up at the same time every day
- Take a warm bath an hour before bed
- Avoid electronics and bright screens up to two hours before bedtime
- Try listening to audiobooks or music at bedtime
- Think about your sleep environment (heat, light, noise etc.)
- Exercise regularly
- Avoid drinking caffeine and alcohol before bedtime
- Relax, unwind and clear your head
- Reserve your bed for sleeping
What are nightmares?
Nightmares or night terrors can be triggered by psychological reasons, including mental health conditions such as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), anxiety and depression – although you can also experience nightmares without any mental health problems.
Nightmares tend to only happen in Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep, which is the last third of the sleep cycle.
If you experience a nightmare you may wake up feeling anxious, nervous and scared. You may not be able to get back to sleep as a result. It is common to experience a nightmare now and then, but if you are worried about the amount of nightmares you are experiencing please seek support from your GP.
If you would like to assess how well you sleep and seek guidance and support, the NHS choices website has a sleep self-assessment tool that could be useful: http://www.nhs.uk/Tools/Pages/Sleep-self-assessment.aspx
If you’re a Veteran or an Armed Forces family member, get in touch confidentially with our Hidden Wounds team here to find out more about how your mental health might be affecting your sleep.