Cognitive Behavioural Therapy Services
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Sleep varies in quality, length and depth and is essential to human survival. Our bodies are equipped with biological clocks, which ensure that we are alerted to rest (sleep) so that our bodies can carry out essential maintenance work to itself. The biological clock runs in sleep/wake cycles and works by adjusting certain hormone levels in our bodies. Growth hormones become more active during our sleep, while the brain and eyes get the protein they need to function properly.

Whilst it is not completely understood exactly what sleep does for our functioning, it is clear from animal studies that being impaired of sleep can adversely affect us. Sleep appears necessary for our immune system and nervous systems to work properly. Also, we know that little sleep leaves us drowsy and unable to concentrate the next day. Sleep deprivation can cause impaired memory, physical performance, hallucinations, low mood and irritability.

Studies suggest that activity in parts of the brain that control emotions, decision-making processes, and social interactions is drastically reduced during deep sleep. This has led researchers to conclude that deep sleep may help people maintain the best emotional and social functioning while they are awake.

How Much Sleep Do We Need?

Research suggests that our bodies require between five and nine hours of sleep each night. However, this is different for everyone and depends on a number of factors unique to each individual, including age, as infants will require more sleep for their growing bodies. Also, the quality of sleep we receive is also important.

What Causes Insomnia and Sleep Disturbance?

Anxiety and Depression are both thought to affect sleep patterns. People often report not being able to sleep because their minds are 'racing' with worries about work, exams, family, bereavement and relationships. Research suggests sleep deprivation can cause anxiety disorders. This is because a lack of sleep stimulates the part of the brain most closely associated with depression, anxiety, and other mental health disorders. Studies show that some form of sleep disruption is present in nearly all psychiatric disorders. There are also a number of mental health problems that underlie sleep disturbance such as bipolar disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder, major depression, generalized anxiety disorder and Post Traumatic stress disorder to name a few.

For those living with anxiety disorders, insomnia is part of a vicious cycle. Many symptoms of anxiety disorders, including excessive stress, persistent worry, obsessive thoughts, gastrointestinal problems, and nightmares are likely to rob precious sleep.

Unfortunately, although depression and anxiety can create sleep problems, the lack of sleep contributes to these problems trapping the sufferer in a vicious cycle. Much of the work a therapist will do to help the sufferer overcome their problem is to help address their unhelpful beliefs about their lack of sleep and tiredness. Beliefs can include 'I have a fixed amount of energy that I must conserve through sleep', 'poor sleep is dangerous' and 'I must have a certain amount of sleep in order to function properly'. A therapist will also be able to help you perform experiments to test out the validity of certain worries that prevent you from sleeping. They may also be able to provide you with alternatives to worry at the end of the day, relaxation techniques and ways to distract yourself from the unhelpful thoughts that might be keeping you awake.

Tips To Improve Sleep:

  • Establish a routine. Try to go to up to bed at approximately the same time each night and try to get up at the same time each morning.
  • Avoid alcohol. Many people believe that alcohol actually helps them sleep, when in fact it affects the quality of sleep we receive.
  • Obey your body clock. If you wake up shortly before your alarm, get out of bed rather than lye there.
  • Regular cardiovascular (heart pumping) exercise (preferably daily and at least 30 minutes) will help to regulate your body's production of adrenaline and will help you to use up excess energy and can help overcome depression. Try not to exercise to close to bedtime.
  • Avoid eating last thing at night or going to bed hungry. Try eating at regular meal times.
  • Ensure that your mattress and bedding are suitable for a good night's sleep. Back specialists recommend a firm, level and supported mattress.
  • The optimum room temperature for a restful night's sleep is 15-21 c. Ensure that your bedroom is at the right temperature, make sure your duvet isn't too thick or light for the season and wear loose-fitting cotton night garments to allow your skin to breathe.
  • Try to create a relaxing atmosphere before bedtime. Herbal remedies such as basil, camomile, lavender, hops, lettuce and marjoram all have a calming effect. Alternatively, try a warm bath, read a book or listen to guided relaxation CDs (available from your local library or online).
  • Avoid stimulants such as caffeine (found in chocolate, cola, some dieting pills, tea and coffee), nicotine and illicit stimulant drugs such as cocaine and amphetamine.
  • Avoid doing anything that is likely to stimulate you before bed, such as watching TV. Try to keep television out of the bedroom.
  • Avoid lying in bed awake for too long. Get out of bed and do something else until you feel tired. The anxiety created by not being able to get back to sleep is likely to actually create the problem.
  • Finally, dairy products and foods such as turkey contain the amino acid Tryptophan, which assists the body in creating serotonin in the brain, a chemical that creates the desire to nap.

Getting Help

The treatment options for sleep disturbance are generally considered to be, cognitive-behaviour therapy (please visit for more information about CBT), relaxation techniques and/or medication.

The connection between sleep and mood means that it is hard to treat one without the other. Sadly, drug treatments for insomnia, depression and other mood related disorders may also cause the development or an increase in the sleep problem. However, your GP will be able to assess this risk on your behalf. GPs are encouraged to restrict sleeping pills for short term use. Pharmacists will provide information and advice on prescriptive drugs and over the counter remedies. Alternatively, you can consult Overcoming Insomnia and Sleep Problems by Colin A. Espie.

For more information about sleep, sleep disorders and the mental health conditions that sometimes accompany them contact:

The Sleep Council
Freephone leaflet line: 0800 018 7923.
Promotes the benefits of sleeping well and provides information leaflets about sleep and beds.
National Sleep Foundation
American website with information on sleep and sleep disorders (
Depression Alliance
0845 123 23 20 (

NHS Direct
0845 4647 (

The Samaritans
0345 909090 (

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Essex CBT Therapy offer counselling services throughout London & the following areas in Essex

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