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Why do we need sleep?

Sleep is an essential component in our continuing health and well-being. It is an important process. The restorative cycle of it means the body is able to rest, refresh, recover and continue functioning normally.  In our fast paced lives nowadays sleep problems are sadly a common occurrence.

For many of us, sleeping is a natural part of our routine. While we know the health benefits and importance of it, few of us truly appreciate how much we need it or know what happens when we don’t get enough.

On average, an adult will need seven to eight hours of sleep each night. However, it is thought that one in three adults are affected by sleep problems or have been diagnosed with insomnia.

What is a sleep disorder?

We all find ourselves lying awake on rare occasions, we’ve had a stressful day at work, or received some bad news or roused by a bad dream.    For most of us it is likely we will quickly return to our normal routine once things have settled down however, for others, problem sleeping is a far more common occurrence.  Sadly, sleep problems or disorders are now considered to be one of the most common health complaints seriously affecting the physical, mental and emotional functioning of many individuals.

Sleep disorders is the term used to describe any problems relating to sleep problems. This can include:

  • insomnia,
  • excessive sleep
  • night terrors,
  • sleep bruxism (teeth grinding)
  • nocturnal enuresis (bedwetting during sleep).

There are a variety of warning signs which may be indicators sleep problems such as:

  • feeling as though you have had sufficient sleep but are very tired throughout the day
  • drifting off mid-conversation
  • a partner disturbing you regularly by snoring, physical movements, sleep-talking or sleepwalking
  • starting a new medication and finding your sleep to be affected.

Please note that not everyone who exhibits all or some of these symptoms will have sleep problems. People will have their own experience of sleep disorders.

What is insomnia?

According to guidelines from a physician group, insomnia is defined as; difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep, even when a person has the chance to do so. People with insomnia can feel dissatisfied with their sleep and usually experience one or more of the following symptom fatigue, low energy, difficulty concentrating, mood disturbances, and decreased performance in work or at school.

The National Sleep Foundation lists two types of insomnia and these are characterised by the duration of the sleep disturbance.  For example.

Acute insomnia is brief and will often happen because of a specific life experience, for example, you are kept awake worrying about an exam, or you are feeling stressed from a day at work.   Many people may have experienced this type of passing sleep disruption, and it tends to resolve without any treatment.

Chronic insomnia is disrupted sleep that occurs at least three nights per week and lasts at least three months and is often a long-term problem.    Chronic insomnia disorders can have many causes. Changes in the environment, unhealthy sleep habits, shift work or other clinical disorders, and certain medications could lead to a long-term pattern of insufficient sleep.

What is a sleep cycle?

There are several stages to our sleep which we call a Sleep Cycle, whilst many of us it may seem like one continued state of unconsciousness it is in fact a process made up of several stages.  A sleep cycle refers to the period of time it takes for an individual to progress through the stages of sleep.

Sleep is a reoccurring cycle which can be split into two main categories. Rapid eye movement (REM) and non-rapid eye movement (NREM).

Non-REM sleep

The first phase of the sleep cycle we experience is known as non-REM sleep and occurs in four stages. Often, the first stage is referred to as “light sleep”. Here the muscle activity slows down and though we are sleeping, we can be easily roused. We move into stage two after about ten minutes. Stage two on average will last 20 minutes, during this time our breathing and heart rate slow down.

The third stage sees us entering deep sleep. This is where our brain begins to produce delta waves and the rate of breathing and heart rate slow to their lowest levels. After this, we enter the final stage of non-REM sleep. This is characterised by a combination of limited muscle activity and rhythmic breathing. It is this stage of sleep where we may feel disorientated when woken suddenly.

During non-REM sleep, the body has the opportunity to fix any wear and tear from the day. The body will repair and regenerate tissue, build muscle and bone and strengthen the immune system.

REM sleep

Approximately 25 per cent of the sleep cycle is spent in REM sleep. This phase occurs 70 to 90 minutes into sleep. It is at this stage that the brain is the most active: our breathing rate and blood pressure rise and our eyes dart from side to side. Despite increased activity in the brain, it is assumed the muscles remain paralysed due to the body protecting us from acting out the dream.

We experience three to five REM episodes each night. During the night, each cycle will become less dominated by non-REM phases, progressively becoming more dominated by REM sleep.

It has been reported that dreams are at their most vivid when woken from REM sleep.

Click on the + below to find out more – adapted from The National Sleep Foundation

Stage 1 of Sleep (Non REM Phase)

Stage 1 is light sleep where you drift in and out of sleep and can be awakened easily. In this stage, the eyes move slowly and muscle activity slows. During this stage, many people experience sudden muscle contractions preceded by a sensation of falling.

Stage 2 of Sleep (Non REM Phase)

In stage 2, eye movement stops and brain waves become slower with only an occasional burst of rapid brain waves. The body begins to prepare for deep sleep, as the body temperature begins to drop and the heart rates slows.

Stage 3 of Sleep (Non REM Phase)

When a person enters stage 3, extremely slow brain waves called delta waves are interspersed with smaller, faster waves. This is deep sleep. It is during this stage that a person may experience sleepwalking, night terrors, talking during one’s sleep, and bedwetting. These behaviors are known as parasomnias, and tend to occur during the transitions between non-REM and REM sleep.

Stage 4 of Sleep (REM Sleep)

In stage 4, deep sleep continues as the brain produces delta waves almost exclusively. People roused from this state feel disoriented for a few minutes.

Stages 3 and 4 are referred to as deep sleep, slow wave sleep, or delta sleep. It is very difficult to wake someone from them. Children are nearly impossible to wake up from this stage, and may be prone to bedwetting, sleepwalking or night terrors. In deep sleep, there is no eye movement or muscle activity.

Deep sleep reduces your sleep drive, and provides the most restorative sleep of all the sleep stages. This is why if you take a short nap during the day, you’re still able to fall asleep at night. But if you take a nap long enough to fall into deep sleep, you have more difficulty falling asleep at night because you reduced your need for sleep.

During deep sleep, human growth hormone is released and restores your body and muscles from the stresses of the day. Your immune system restores itself. Much less is known about deep sleep than REM sleep. It may be during this stage that the brain also refreshes itself for new learning the following day.

Stage 5 of Sleep REM Phase)

During REM (rapid eye movement) sleep, brain waves mimic activity during the waking state. The eyes remain closed but move rapidly from side-to-side, perhaps related to the intense dream and brain activity that occurs during this stage.

We spend less time in REM the older we get. Do young children spend more time in REM than old people because they are learning so much? It seems plausible that there would be a connection.

How Can Hypnotherapy Help with Sleeping Problems?

Hypnotherapy focuses on understanding and changing patterns of behaviour which have been learnt and established as normal behaviour over many years.   With our hectic lifestyles nowadays our health and well-being can often suffer and with it our sleeping patterns can become erratic leading to longer term problems.     Though the cause of the problem will vary for each individual, there are many conditions that may increase the risk of developing sleep problems.

Hypnotherapy has been used as a way of altering and reconditioning negative patterns of behaviour for many years.  It does this will do this by seeking out the root cause of the problem and altering the individual’s perception of it.

Many sleep disorders are fuelled and worsened by issues that can be effectively treated with hypnotherapy such as stress and anxiety. Usually it is not the situation itself that causes stress but the way we react to it.

By inducing a wonderful state of deep relaxation, the hypnotherapist will be able to gain access to the unconscious mind.  The hypnotherapist will target the negative thought patterns, and will teach the individual how to manage the feelings and view them in a positive perspective.  In addition they will teach them relaxation strategies to help guide them into a deep state of relaxation so their unconscious understands what a normal relaxed state can feel like.

At Mind Calm we look a range of different approaches and tailor our treatment to your personal circumstances utilising either a combination of techniques or just a single approach.    We offer a free no obligation consultation to discuss your requirements and give you the opportunity to ask questions and for us to understand fully your sleeping difficulties.

It is important to contact your GP if you are experiencing a sleep disorder.  They will be able to provide you with a diagnosis and advice, as well as being able to rule out any underlying medical conditions.

Sources and Useful Resources To Help with Sleep Problems and insomnia

Click on the links below to access additional resources that can help with improving sleep and insomnia*

Books I recommend to help with sleep problems

The Sleep Book – Written by Dr Guy Meadows – the founder of the Sleep School

Go to Sleep – some great strategies from someone who has suffered with insomnia nearly all her life.


*This links divert to external websites, and we earn a small commission on any sale.   These commissions can help fund Mind Calm being able to offer reduced rates for therapy or free therapy sessions for those in need. 

Top Tips to Help Aid Sleep

Click here to see a range of helpful hints and tips to help aid your sleep.

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