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Counting sheep syndrome: When sleep eludes you

Many of us have experienced that wide awake feeling at 3 o’clock in the morning that no amount of sheep counting can alleviate. Insomnia is fast becoming the bane of modern lifestyles, as we all live increasingly stressful, busy and often anxious lives. According to the London Sleep Clinic about 30-40% of adults will experience some level of insomnia in a given year.

It is well documented that sleep affects our ability to function cognitively and physically and a bad night’s sleep severely effects both, and often we feel powerless to solve the problem.

Of course solving the problem begins with understanding what’s causing it in the first place.

Broadly speaking the underlying cause of insomnia may be psychological or neurological or it just might be a by-product of a chaotic lifestyle. Common psychological causes are; stress, anxiety or depression. In terms of lifestyle causes, drinking too much alcohol, caffeine, or drugs such as diet pills can suppress sleep. Sleep apnoea might point to a neurological condition.

Simple steps you can take to lessen the outbreak of insomnia are:

  • winding down before bedtime

  • sleeping in a dark, quiet room which is well ventilated

  • doing regular exercise

  • not eating too much before bedtime

  • not drinking too much caffeine or alcohol in the evening (alcohol gets you off to sleep, but it decreases the quality of your sleep).

Short term insomnia may only last a couple of days or weeks, and is commonly triggered by stress or a lifestyle change. Chronic and acute insomnia can be long term and could be linked to a medical condition or depression. One report by the US National Institute of Mental Health found that depression rates were 40 times higher for patients with insomnia when compared to those without sleep problems.

While soldiering on may be the only solution to cope with certain situations in the short term, for example the arrival of a new baby, it is not a long term solution. More and more evidence also suggests that people who consistently get little sleep may be at risk of heart disease, diabetes, and obesity.

If insomnia is blighting the quality of your life don’t suffer in silence, seek out professional help.

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