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Sleep Difficulties

Most of us experience sleep problems occasionally in the course of our lives. However, some people suffer persistent and ongoing sleep problems, which can affect their relationships and ability to function on a day-to-day basis.

What is normal sleep?

In the course of a normal night’s sleep, we go through several different stages:

  • rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, where we dream
  • non-REM sleep, which includes light sleeping, “slow wave” sleep where we may talk or sleep walk, and deep “slow wave” sleep where we become hard to wake

In between these stages we also have short periods of waking, which can feel longer than they are - particularly if we’re anxious, or kept awake by surrounding noises.

Problematic sleep

While it’s normal to experience the occasional poor night′s sleep, ongoing problems such as sleeping too little (insomnia), sleeping too much, interrupted sleeping or sleeping at the wrong times can be very disturbing. They can affect our ability to function in a number of ways, including:

  • constant tiredness
  • falling asleep during the day
  • difficulty concentrating or making decisions
  • feeling low or depressed
  • fearing or seeing hallucinations
  • forgetting things you’ve done as if you’d been asleep

If you are also experiencing the symptoms below, you should discuss them with your GP, as they may be caused by specific sleep problems:

Narcolepsy (daytime sleepiness)

  • uncontrollable attacks of sleepiness, even when with other people
  • loss of muscle control and collapse when angry, laughing or excited (also called Cataplexy)

Sleep Apnoea (interrupted sleep)

  • loud snoring
  • stopping breathing for short periods
  • sudden waking with arm or leg jerking

The causes of poor sleep

There are several everyday issues that can cause poor sleep, such as noise, feeling too hot or cold, interrupted routines, cigarettes, alcohol or caffeine. Physical problems such as pain, diabetes or thyroid problems can also affect sleep, so it is important to discuss this with your GP. Sometimes, even when we have identified the causes, we cannot overcome our sleep problems. Often, we cannot identify the causes at all.

How psychological therapy can help

Psychological therapies can help you learn to sleep well again. It can help you identify the causes of your poor sleep, and also deal with some of the underlying issues that can contribute to sleeping problems. Emotional causes such as Anxiety, difficulties at work and Depression, or specific problems such as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) are often linked to sleeping problems.

What to do before seeking psychological help

There are many things you can do to help improve your sleep:

  • Make sure your sleeping arrangements are comfortable (consider temperature, comfort and noise)
  • Make the bedroom a place for sleep, not entertainment – take out the television and computer
  • Take regular exercise, such as walking or swimming, a few hours before bedtime
  • Try to take time to relax before going to bed
  • Write down any issues you are worrying about, and tell yourself that you will deal with them tomorrow
  • If you can′t sleep, get up and do something relaxing until you are ready to sleep again
  • Avoid excessive alcohol and caffeine
  • Try to create a routine so your body can sleep regularly – get up at the same time and go to bed at the same time, even if you’re sleeping badly
  • Talk to your GP to see if you have any underlying physical causes that are causing you to sleep badly

Medication can help, but research suggests it offers only a short term benefit (less than 2 weeks).

Your next steps

If you are still suffering from sleep problems, you should consider psychological help. Sleep problems often respond well to psychological therapies, as they help address both the problem and the underlying causes.

There are many approaches for treating sleeping problems depending on your current situation and the contributing factors in your life. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) has been found to be very useful in a number of cases and additional therapies such as Cognitive Analytic Therapy (CAT) and Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) may also be useful.

Contact Connect

Connect will help you find the most appropriate psychologist or psychotherapist for your circumstances, in a location convenient to you. If you or someone you know is suffering from sleep problems, and you live in Bath, Bristol, North Somerset, West Wiltshire or South Gloucestershire, please contact us for a free discussion of your concerns. Call 01225 344 171 or email

More information is available on the following websites: