What is Sleep Therapy?
For certain problems, such as insomnia, sleep therapy can provide an effective solution. Let’s take a closer look at what it involves, including pros and cons, and how you can get the sleep you need.
What is sleep therapy?
First things first, sleep therapy is an effective, non drug treatment for sleep disorders, including insomnia. It’s designed for those who are unable to achieve healthy sleep frequently.
Experts offer practical advice and support on improving sleep patterns, helping you identify thoughts and behaviours that cause or worsen sleep problems. These are then replaced with habits that promote sound sleep1.
After the cause of the issue has been identified, sufferers will be advised on behavioural techniques and sleep management tactics to aid recovery2. A holistic approach is often taken; one that looks at everything from diet, to exercise, to sleep hygiene.
What does it treat?
There are many different sleep disorders out there, including sleep walking, night terrors and insomnia3. Each needs to be treated in a different way. For example, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT-I) is often used to treat insomnia. This involves applying a structured programme to help sufferers overcome the underlying cause of the problem and what they can do to sleep better.
Who needs sleep therapy?
If you frequently fail to get good quality sleep, and are often left feeling lethargic and tired during the day, you might want to consider sleep therapy.
It’s recommended to speak to a GP if you’ve been suffering for over a month4.
What are the pros & cons?
While every treatment is different and tailored to the individual, let’s take a look at the overall positives – and inevitable downsides.
The main draw of sleep therapy is that it deals with the root of the problem. While medication or sleeping pills can provide temporary relief, they won’t address the underlying issues, so problems could well continue. Certain medications can also lead to dependencies or unwanted side effects, whereas therapy avoids this.
The benefits of therapy can take time to be felt. There can also be delays in securing treatment. Of course, for those desperate for sleep, this isn’t necessarily the ideal solution. A combination of temporary medication, or over-the-counter relief, and sleep therapy might be best for some individuals.
Why is sleep so important?
Sleep disorders can be debilitating for a number of reasons. Treating them is a top priority, as sleep is as important for our health as a healthy diet and regular exercise:
- Poor sleep is linked to obesity
- Good sleep improves concentration
- Good sleep boosts productivity
- Poor quality sleep can lead to a greater chance of heart disease or stroke5
- There’s a link between poor sleep and depression
In short: poor sleep compromises health, mood and relationships with others. However, even if you’re suffering, this doesn’t mean that sleep therapy is right for you – it’s a last resort for many. Before opting for therapy, there are things you can do to get a good night’s sleep (on a regular basis).
How to improve your sleep
Many of the tactics used during sleep therapy to improve sleep quality can be followed by individuals on their own. Good sleep doesn’t simply translate to ‘lots of sleep’, rather, it’s about the quality also.
Let’s explore what changes you can make that can have a big impact.
Sleep environment matters
Drifting off is much easier in the right surroundings, unsurprisingly. Promoting a healthy sleep environment can be done by:
- Avoiding distractions (such as TV or phone screens) at least 1 hour before bed
- Finding a comfortable mattress
- Making sure you sleep in pitch blackness
- Blocking out all noise
- Ensuring it’s not too hot or too cold
- Avoiding working in your bed during the day
You could also consider designing your room for sleep. This could involve using warm colours on the walls or furniture, and reducing clutter6.
Try relaxing and unwinding
Find yourself lying awake at night, worrying and growing increasingly frustrated? Anxiety can have a poor impact on sleep, but practicing relaxation techniques could help you drift off. This could include:
- Deep breathing
- Progressive muscle relaxation
- Meditating before bed
- Visualisation exercises (e.g. body scans, where you pay attention to every part of your body individually)7
These can take a lot of practice and time to get right, but be patient with yourself. Many have found these helpful. If possible, avoid stressing over not being able to fall asleep – this will only make things worse!
Make lifestyle changes
Most sleep therapists will recommend sufferers of sleep disorders make certain lifestyle changes, including improving diet and exercising more frequently.
For example, avoid caffeine after 3pm, cut back on sugary foods and avoid alcohol. All of these things will have a negative impact on your sleep pattern.
Find the root cause
Sleep therapists will address the cause of the issue behind sleep disorders, which is the main benefit. You could try doing the same. Consider all aspects of your life, from your job to any stresses.
There are many causes of poor quality sleep, so it can be difficult to underpin. But, once you’ve found it, you can find ways to deal with it. Keeping a sleep diary could help you here.
Set a regular sleep pattern
A therapist will likely recommend you stick to a regular sleep pattern – a set wake and bedtime. Aim to get at least 7 hours a night, This helps maintain the timing of the body’s internal clock, allowing you to fall asleep more easily8.
Know when to get up
Prone to waking up multiple times in the night? Sometimes, lying there trying to force yourself to fall asleep simply won’t do any good. If, after 20 minutes, you can’t get back to sleep again, it can be a good idea to get up and try something else. This should be a low-impact activity, such as reading or meditating9. Avoid looking at your phone or doing anything that will rev you up again.
Bear in mind that you’re not giving up on sleep for the rest of the night, just temporarily!
Start building better habits
Setting a new sleep pattern and building better habits can be easier than you might think. Sleep therapy is always there as a solution if your suffering is ongoing. However, small changes you make can have a big impact as time goes on. Never underestimate the importance of a good night’s sleep when it comes to a healthy lifestyle. Remember – you don’t have to suffer in silence, there are things that can help.
- Insomnia treatment: Cognitive behavioral therapy instead of sleeping pills – Mayo Clinic
- Sleep disorders and sleep therapy – Priory
- Sleep Disorders – Healthline
- How to sleep better – Mental Health Foundation
- 10 Reasons Why Good Sleep Is Important – Healthline
- How to Design the Ideal Bedroom for Sleep – Sleep Foundation
- Relaxation Exercises to Help Fall Asleep – Sleep Foundation
- Adopt Good Sleep Habits – Get Sleep
- Can’t Sleep? When to Just Get Out of Bed – Web MD