Insomnia: The Latest Research and Treatments in the UK
With a survey by the Mental Health Foundation reporting that up to a third of the UK’s population suffers from poor sleep at any one time, it’s no surprise to learn that “Insomnia” is what Brits are researching for the most when it comes to medical conditions. Many people suffer from occasional episodes of insomnia at some point in their lives but for some, it can develop into a problem that can persist over many months or even years.
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How is insomnia diagnosed?
In order to diagnose insomnia, your doctor may ask for blood tests to rule out conditions such as thyroid problems that can cause insomnia and may also order a sleep study or ask you to keep a sleep diary, where you can log details including your bedtime, the time you get up and how sleepy you feel at various times of day.
The link between insomnia and mental health
Insomnia is often triggered by mental health conditions: a study by Dr Claire McGhee and Dr T Everett Julyan of NHS Ayrshire & Arran showed that insomnia is a common problem in patients suffering from psychiatric illnesses such as depression, anxiety and schizophrenia. Their research also demonstrated that the sedating drugs used to treat the primary mental conditions were not effective in treating associated insomnia and that alternative therapies to treat poor sleep were required.
Other common causes of insomnia
Our sleep can be affected by many other factors, including:
- A bedroom that is too light, too hot or too cold or too noisy
- Physical health problems such as sleep apnoea (excessive snoring that disturbs your sleep), chronic pain and heart conditions
- Lifestyle factors: shift work, jet lag and alcohol or caffeine is taken near bedtime can all affect our sleep patterns
Treatments for insomnia
Sleep medication can only be prescribed as a short term solution as it becomes less effective over time; many patients also worry about becoming dependent on drugs. A sleep therapist is likely to recommend a course of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy for Insomnia (CBT-I), a safe and effective treatment which works by helping you to identify thoughts and feelings that can trigger or worsen sleep difficulties and replace them with habits that promote a good night’s sleep. CBT-I techniques that may be used include:
Don’t lie awake, desperately trying to get to sleep but get up and find something to do. Keep awake until the next night. By depriving yourself of sleep, you will become tired and your sleep pattern will improve. It is important to resist the temptation to nap during the day.
Relaxation techniques take many forms from visualisation to muscle relaxation and help to calm the mind as well as relaxing the body.
Stimulus control therapy
Stimulus control therapy aims to remove factors which influence your mind against falling asleep. Stick to a routine at bedtime: avoid alcohol and caffeine after 6 pm, switch off all screens at least an hour before bedtime, take a warm bath, perhaps have a hot drink and never work in bed: the bedroom should be reserved just for sleeping and sex.
Cognitive behavioural therapy requires persistence but can be a safe and effective treatment for long-term sleep disorders.
For some patients, a combination of medication and sleep therapy is the best approach towards achieving a good night’s sleep.