How to treat sleep difficulties

By Mosh

09 September 2021

minute read

How to treat sleep difficulties

A few bad night’s sleep can make you feel groggy, tired and view the world through a negative lens. Make that a few months or more of bad sleep, and life in general can become quite a struggle.

Sleeping difficulties – often referred to as insomnia – refers to difficulty falling asleep, staying asleep and waking up too early, resulting in inadequate sleep. Inadequate sleep is common amongst Australians, with estimates suggesting four in every ten Australians are regularly experiencing this issue.

The causes are varied, and in order to treat it, you need to first understand what’s behind your sleepless nights.

A few bad night’s sleep can make you feel groggy, tired and view the world through a negative lens. Make that a few months or more of bad sleep, and life in general can become quite a struggle.

Sleeping difficulties – often referred to as insomnia – refers to difficulty falling asleep, staying asleep and waking up too early, resulting in inadequate sleep. Inadequate sleep is common amongst Australians, with estimates suggesting four in every ten Australians are regularly experiencing this issue.

The causes are varied, and in order to treat it, you need to first understand what’s behind your sleepless nights.

Track your sleep to gain insight

If there are obvious lifestyle choices that are causing you to lose zzz’s, such as drinking caffeine or alcohol in the evenings, working late hours, socialising too often at night, or too much screen time before bed, the solution may be obvious – try to reduce or cut out those activities.

If, however, you’re not sure what’s causing your sleep difficulty, a good place to start is by completing a sleep diary for a week or two to determine any patterns in your sleeping difficulty. For example, you might notice you sleep better and longer on weekends than weekdays, which may be due to weekday work stresses.

Sleep tracking apps like Sleep Cycle and wearables such as Muse S are another useful way to track sleep quality and quantity. These technologies have the ability to record hours slept, sleep cycles (REM and non-REM sleep), movement during sleep, and snoring. While these technologies aren’t perfect, they may give you an indication about the cause of your sleepless nights.

If you discover that poor sleep quality is at play, or perhaps loud snoring is to blame, it’s time to consult a doctor. Loud snoring could be a sign of a more serious condition known as sleep apnoea, in which breathing repeatedly stops and starts throughout the night. If left untreated, it can lead to chronic conditions such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, depression and impotence.

Establish good sleep hygiene

As more technologies vie for our attention and working hours are becoming longer, good sleep hygiene often falls by the wayside.

Just think of all the times you’ve been up late scrolling through your Insta feed, oblivious to how much time has passed. Or those late nights you’ve been up working to meet a deadline with a block of chocolate and a coffee by your side. It’s behaviours like these that can undo good sleeping habits and lead to sleep difficulties.

Here are some steps you can take, both during the day and before you go to bed, to improve your sleep.

  • Go to sleep and wake up at the same time every day, even on weekends. This reinforces your body’s natural sleep cycle, making it easier for you to get to sleep and wake up each day.

  • Pay attention to your sleep environment. A cool, dark, quiet room is what’s recommended to help you fall asleep and stay asleep more easily. The optimal temperature is around 18 degrees celsius (give or take a few degrees). Also ensure you have a comfortable mattress and pillow. And if light floods your room in the morning, try some blackout blinds or use an eye mask to keep your room darker for longer. If you’re a light sleeper and noise wakes you easily, try some ear plugs.

  • Turn off your phone and other electronic devices before bed or keep them out of the bedroom. Electronic devices emit blue light, which can reduce the melatonin levels in your body – the hormone that controls your sleep/wake cycle. Aim to stop screen time at least a few hours before bed and start a relaxing bedtime ritual such as having a warm bath, doing some meditation or reading a book.  

  • Get regular exercise. Exercise has been proven to help you fall asleep more quickly and improve sleep quality. Specifically, moderate aerobic exercise has been proven to increase the amount of slow wave sleep you get. Slow wave sleep refers to deep sleep, where the brain and body have a chance to rejuvenate. But avoid exercise within a few hours of bedtime as it can increase your energy levels and body temperature, making it harder to fall asleep.

  • Limit caffeine in the afternoons. It can take up to 10 hours to completely clear caffeine from your bloodstream, which means that your afternoon cuppa may be keeping you awake a lot longer than you’d like. Instead, limit your caffeine intake to the morning hours.

Consider natural remedies

If good sleep practices aren't helping you get better quality sleep, you may want to try some mindfulness meditation or evidence-based natural supplements.

  • Mindfulness meditation – This practice involves focusing on your breathing and then bringing your mind’s attention to the present without drifting into worries about the past or future. While it takes a bit of time to master, it slowly helps to break the train of your everyday worrisome thoughts to evoke the relaxation response. The result, according to research, is markedly improved sleep. Aim to practice for 20 minutes a day. 

  • Magnesium – In order to fall asleep and stay asleep, your body and brain need to relax. Magnesium aids this process by activating the parasympathetic nervous system (the system responsible for getting you calm and relaxed). There are a number of different types of magnesium supplements available so it’s best to consult a healthcare professional for advice on the best one for you. 

  • GABA and L-theanine – Gamma aminobutyric acid (GABA) is a naturally occurring amino acid that works as a neurotransmitter in your brain. It helps to decrease activity in your nervous system, thereby promoting relaxation.
     

L-theanine is also an amino acid, but it is not found naturally in the body. Rather it can be found in green tea, black tea as well as certain types of mushrooms. Some studies have suggested that L-theanine may help people get to sleep more easily, and sleep more deeply.

Together, GABA and L-theanine have been shown to have a positive synergistic effect on sleep quality and duration than either one alone. 

  • Valerian and hops – Valerian primarily helps to reduce anxiety and hops has sedative properties. Both also boost the production of GABA, the calming brain chemical. Together, this duo has been shown in studies to improve sleep quality and reduce the time it takes to get to sleep.

Not sure which one is right for you? A Mosh doctor can prescribe a natural blended formula specifically for you.   
 

Engage a psychologist

If your sleep troubles haven’t been helped by any of the approaches above, it might be time to consult a psychologist for some guided therapy.

Cognitive Behaviour Therapy for Insomnia (CBT-I) is known to be the gold standard in treating insomnia. It’s a structured program delivered by a psychologist and it works by helping you identify and replace thoughts and behaviors that cause or worsen sleep problems with habits that promote sound sleep. The idea is that if you change the way you think, you can change the way you feel, and ultimately how you sleep.

Unlike medication, CBT-I addresses the underlying causes of insomnia rather than just relieving symptoms. But it takes time and effort to make it work. In some cases, a combination of sleep medication and CBT-I may be the best approach.

Book in with a Mosh psychologist online to find out more.

Consult a doctor for other options

Sometimes prescription medications are needed alongside natural approaches to help get your sleep back on track. Medications containing melatonin are commonly prescribed to treat insomnia.

Melatonin is a hormone that your body produces naturally, and it signals to your brain that it’s time to sleep. For people with sleep difficulties, melatonin supplements may help reduce the time taken to fall asleep and increase the total amount of sleep time

Book your online sleep consultation with a Mosh doctor to find out more.