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Catching Your Forty Winks

We all know how it feels when you’ve not had enough sleep- tired, cranky, irritable, unproductive and overwrought. Even the simplest task can seem overwhelming and this is largely due to the fact that your brain and cognitive function is not operating at optimal levels.

Although bouts of bad sleep are normal and to be expected in our fast paced society, chronic sleep problems and ongoing insomnia (difficulties with sleep for 3 months or more) should not be ignored. According to the National Sleep Foundation, evidence suggests that people with insomnia have a ten-fold risk of developing depression and an increased risk of other co-morbid conditions.

So how do you break this vicious cycle of bad sleep, poor health and its myriad of negative repercussions? Research suggests that the most effective long-term treatment for insomnia is cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), a psychology based treatment that addresses behaviour and thinking around sleep. Sleep Specialist, Dr David Cunnington recently conducted research into CBT as treatment for insomnia. His research, as conveyed on his website, Sleep Hub revealed that on average people went to sleep 19 minutes faster and stayed asleep 26 minutes longer after CBT-I.

Clinical Psychologist Kathryn Smith and Psychiatrist Dr Curt Gray have been effectively treating insomnia with CBT through their long-standing group programme, Towards Better Sleep. Unlike sleep medication, CBT is not a quick fix and takes time to work, which is why the programme spans across 6 weeks, focusing on education, behavioural techniques, correcting faulty thinking and relaxation strategies.

A group setting has proven an effective setting to treat people with sleep problems, allowing participants to share their experiences and learn from one another in a more cost effective way. If you think you could benefit from group therapy, talk to your GP about your suitability for the TBS programme. You can download the Direct Referral Form for your GP and the TBS Information for clients brochure for all the details of the programme.

Too Busy to Sleep?

bigstock-Businessman-asleep-on-his-desk-16988432-300x200By Dr Curt Gray, Psychiatrist, Kathryn Smith, Clinical Psychologist, &, Dr David Cunnington, Sleep Physician.

When asked the question “So are you busy?” most of us, unless on holidays, boastfully answer, albeit with complete exasperation, “Yes I am run off my feet!”. Although this response is considered ‘normal’ and being busy is seen as virtuous and productive, it’s not necessarily good for our long-term health and wellbeing.

In fact research has shown that ongoing periods of stress can lead to chronic health problems including insomnia, depression, and anxiety. Sleep physician Dr David Cunnington revealed in research published in 2014 ‘Sleep’ Christopher Drake and the team at Henry Ford Hospital, Detroit, showed a strong risk factor for the development of chronic insomnia (trouble getting to sleep or staying asleep for more than 3 months) is ongoing stimulation of the sympathetic nervous system. Whilst episodes of acute stress can throw sleep out for days, once those episodes pass, sleep usually returns to normal. But, if their acute stress episodes occur on a back of being busy, or chronic stress, people were more likely to develop chronic insomnia.

Keeping our busy lives in check is difficult but being mindful of the importance of sleep in general wellbeing is an important step in avoiding the development of chronic insomnia, depression, anxiety, and other illnesses. Clinical Psychologist Kathryn Smith has treated insomnia for over 10 years, and she says seeking help from a health professional before sleeplessness becomes a chronic problem is a smart move, as early intervention can prevent the downward spiral of mental and physical health.

Ms Smith says “Understanding that a lot of the tiredness in insomnia is not from lack of sleep, but from worry about not sleeping or too much ‘nervous energy’, is an important concept and can shift the focus on to strategies that work, rather than continuing to get more anxious and focused on sleep”.

It’s easy to say ‘slow down’ but actually doing it is more difficult. Understanding that by reducing the ‘nervous energy’ that keeps us powering through the day we will improve the quality of sleep at night is the first step.

Dr Curt Gray, Psychiatrist and long standing facilitator of sleep programme Towards Better Sleep provides 5 tips for keeping our busy lives in check and sleep intact:

  1. Stop focusing on the night and start thinking about what you are doing during the day. Overanalysing the night routine and obsessing over how much sleep you’re getting exacerbates the problem. Focus on being more relaxed, healthy and mindful during the day and leave your work woes at the front door.
  2. Eat breakfast, it awakens the senses and lets your body know it’s the start of the day. Eating at regular times and not within an hour of bedtime is also recommended.
  3. Take 10 minutes during the day to be mindful of daily stress and pressure and try to put it in perspective. Take some time to yourself to sit, relax, take a walk or meditate.
  4. Take regular exercise but not within a few hours of bedtime. I’m too busy to exercise I hear you say? Even incidental exercise has been proven to reduce stress and improve sleep, so take the stairs or get off the bus one stop early.
  5. Lastly, take time out for yourself, even 10 minutes a day. ‘Time out’ comes in many forms and is different for everyone, you will know what is right for you.

If you are finding ongoing sleeplessness is affecting your health and wellbeing, talking to a Clinical Psychologist can be helpful in developing practical long-term strategies to manage insomnia. The use of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) to treat insomnia has proven effective in that it takes a holistic approach looking at social, emotional and environmental aspects of a person’s life to unfold what is causing the sleep problem.

Dr David Cunnington has been involved in ongoing research on using CBT for insomnia. Recent research published in June in Annals of Internal Medicine showed that on average people went to sleep 19 minutes faster and stayed asleep 16 minutes longer after CBT. This is similar to the effects of sleeping tablets but without the long lasting negative effects.

Group programs like Towards Better Sleep, utilise CBT and focus on sleep education, behavioural techniques, correcting faulty thinking and relaxation strategies. Group therapy in treating insomnia has proven effective as it offers participants the opportunity to share stories and learn from the experiences and ideas of other insomnia sufferers, in a private and confidential setting. It also allows therapists to treat more people in a cost effective way. To register for the next programme visit Towards Better Sleep 

You can also visit Dr David Cunnington’s website for more information on sleep, health and wellbeing http://sleephub.com.au

Why Getting Better Sleep should be your New Year Resolution

By Clinical Psychologist, Kathryn Smith

sleep_ladyLoose weight and exercise more – sound familiar? Every year when January 1 rolls around, people from across the globe make this pledge to themselves.

But what if you changed the pledge to something much simpler – ‘sleep more’.

Sleep is the pillar for good health, so why not make it a priority in our lives? According to a survey conducted by Australian Bureau of Statistics, as a nation we are spending less time sleeping and more time working (ABS Feb 2008).

Sleep is as necessary for bodily function as food and water. It helps our body and mind restore and re-energize.

Getting better sleep will reduce stress, making you less likely to reach for the coffee and muffin, and more likely to stick to the diet and exercise plan you set on January 1!

If you’ve set goals to kick other bad habits like excessive caffeine consumption, then getting better sleep will greatly assist in achieving this too.

So here are a few tips to help you get better sleep and achieve your goals for 2015:

  1. Stay up later rather than going to bed earlier

Going to bed when you are not sleepy can start a vicious insomnia cycle. You feel anxious and frustrated that you can’t fall asleep, and then you lie awake while the problem perpetuates. It is important to differentiate sleepiness from just feeling tired. We can experience tired throughout our body, but sleepiness is simply dictated by our eyes closing and literally “getting the nods”. Sleepiness will come in waves and when we get this wave at an appropriate time at night, we need to take this cue and catch it.

  1. Avoid napping during the day if you suffer from insomnia

Whilst napping might be desirable for those that are not sleeping well during the night, a nap for those suffering from insomnia can significantly reduce your sleep drive and will make it harder to initiate or maintain sleep at a desirable time. If you are tempted to nap, keep it to 20-30 minutes, or try increasing your level of arousal to counteract feelings of tiredness, this can be as simple as standing up.

  1. Develop a regular exercise regime

We all know that exercise is good for us and will help maintain a healthy mind and body. Exercise also has the added benefit of deepening and extending our sleep. The exercise that works best for this is weight or resistance training. So start pumping that iron or turn up the exercise bike. Anytime of the day is fine however it is best to keep it a couple of hours clear of bedtime.

  1. Learn a relaxation procedure

Having balance in our lives is important. We often neglect relaxation and use the excuse of being time poor. If you are having trouble sleeping, learning a relaxation procedure can be invaluable. We only enter sleep from a state of relaxation. So if we go to bed and make relaxation our goal, sleep is likely to follow, if needed. Whilst alcohol can help us relax and maybe sleep initially, it will typically disrupt our sleep later in the night. So maybe saying no to that glass of wine or two in the evening will pay off.

  1. Keep your evenings free of technology

The main regulator of our sleep is light. It dictates when we wake and when we fall asleep. With increasing use of computers and smart phones we are exposed to more light in the evenings than we have ever been. Computers and smart phones throw out a lot of blue/green light, which can delay the onset of our sleep phase. We can combat this by wearing amber or red glasses, or simply turn off a couple of hours before bed.

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