Skip to main content
[slide-anything id=’7126′]

Understanding Sleep


What is sleep?

We sleep to rest, to recharge, recuperate, and we know that we need it in order to function properly.

Our biological clocks are hardwired, following regular rhythms so that we sleep at night and be awake during the day.  Our brains produce melatonin during darkness at night, to help us feel sleepy and drift off, with light inhibiting this melatonin production during daytime hours.

How much sleep?

It is important to get enough regular sleep each night, or we experience sleep deprivation which can have an impact on us physically and emotionally, with 7-9 hours of sleep being a recommended guideline.  However, sometimes we need less or more sleep, depending on times in our lives or as a result of illness, or because we are just wired that way.

Some people are night-owls, others morning larks; some function quite happily on 6 hours sleep a night, others need 10 to feel rested; babies and children need significantly more sleep than the rest of us, teenagers are notorious for being unable to wake early, and we need less sleep as we age.

Sleep becomes an issue when we feel tired, unrested, experience symptoms of sleep deprivation, or when it has an impact on our wellbeing and affects our quality of life or ability to function as we usually would.

Sleep Disruption

Sleep issues can be temporary or intermittent, as a result of life changes or external stress, or resulting from jet lag or shift work; or they may be more long-term issues that may be a result of a sleep disorder.

Significant, ongoing sleep disruption can have an impact on physical and emotional health, so get support if you need it.

What is a sleep disorder?

Sleep disorders are serious health concerns that can have a massive impact on quality of life, affecting work, relationships and mental health, and are often difficult to manage with good sleep hygiene alone.

Sleep disorders are often invisible to others, they can be disabling, impairing the ability to undertake daily tasks and significantly impacting on mood and energy levels.  It can take time to get a diagnosis of a serious sleep disorder, and it is emotionally and physically exhausting living with a sleep condition.  It can also feel isolating, due to lack of awareness about sleep disorders or limited access to appropriate support.

Some sleep disorders can contribute to physical health issues, or result in secondary mental health diagnoses such as depression and anxiety.  Sleep disorders may also arise as a result of other conditions, such as blindness, neurological issues, depression, anxiety, M.E. / Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, M.S., autism, and dementias.

Signs of a sleep disorder:

Common signs of a sleep disorder can include an inability to sleep, night-time waking, early waking, excessive sleeping, daytime sleepiness, and an inability to feel rested after sleep.  It is natural to occasionally experience these symptoms but if this happening more regularly or continuously then it may be a sign of a sleep disorder.  Symptoms of a sleep disorder can include mood changes, mood dysregulation, irritability, anxiety, tearfulness, daytime sleepiness, fatigue, behavioural changes and issues with memory and concentration.

See your GP or sleep specialist for support and advice if you believe you may be living with a sleep disorder.

Common Sleep Disorders:

(Click for more info)

[bg_collapse view=”link” color=”#263CD5″ icon=”arrow” expand_text=”Circadian Rhythm Disorders” collapse_text=”Circadian Rhythm Disorders” ]Circadian rhythm disorders are when the body clock is out of sync with the environmental 24 hr day/night cycle.  These neurological disorders include: shift work disorders; delayed or advanced sleep phase disorder; jet lag syndrome and non-24 hour sleep wake cycle disorders.  These disorders can have a significant impact on the person’s quality of life and ability to maintain daily tasks and work responsibilities.  Circadian rhythm disorders are relatively rare and widely misunderstood, contributing to isolation, development of depression and anxiety, and a lack of appropriate support.  It can be debilitating living with a circadian rhythm disruption, even when maintaining good sleep hygiene, due to the body clock being hardwired to be out of sync.  See your GP if you believe you may have a circadian rhythm disorder.


[bg_collapse view=”link” color=”#263CD5″ icon=”arrow” expand_text=”Hypersomnia” collapse_text=”Hypersomnia” ]Hypersomnia is when a person sleeps excessively, needing significantly more than average sleep than recommended in order to feel rested.  Sleep deprivation and excessive daytime sleepiness is usually present if unable to get long stretches of sleep, and the person will usually need to take daytime naps.  This condition can have an impact on being able to function at work, or keep up with daily tasks.  It can be a symptom of depression, but can also contribute to experiencing depression.  Hypersomnia can be a result of a neurological condition, depression, other sleep disorders, or it may have no known cause, known as Idiopathic Hypersomnia.  If you are falling asleep during the day and feeling excessively tired and sleepy, see your GP.[/bg_collapse]

[bg_collapse view=”link” color=”#263CD5″ icon=”arrow” expand_text=”Insomnia” collapse_text=”Insomnia” ]Insomnia is an inability to sleep, characterised by being unable to get off to sleep, early waking without being able to go back to sleep, frequent waking during the night, and being unable to take a nap during the day even if tired.  Insomnia can be triggered by various things, including stress, anxiety or depression, travelling, alcohol or drug use, noise, and shift work.  Insomnia may be temporary, but sometimes can go on for months.  Insomnia can usually be managed with good sleep hygiene, but if an inability to sleep is having an impact on your quality of life, mood, or has been going on for some time, see your GP.[/bg_collapse]

[bg_collapse view=”link” color=”#263CD5″ icon=”arrow” expand_text=”Kleine-Levin Syndrome (KLS)” collapse_text=”Kleine-Levin Syndrome (KLS)” ]Often referred to as ‘Sleeping Beauty Syndrome’, people with Kleine-Levin Syndrome experience progressive drowsiness and excessive hypersomnolence, going through episodes of sleeping long stretches throughout the day and night, often only waking to eat, drink or go to the bathroom.  It is a neurological condition which also brings about behavioural changes, mood fluctuations, and confusion.  Symptoms can occur for weeks at a time, can be intermittent over months without any symptoms in-between.  KLS can have a massive impact on the person’s ability to function or undertake daily tasks, and can take its toll emotionally.  See your GP if you think you may be living with KLS.[/bg_collapse]

[bg_collapse view=”link” color=”#263CD5″ icon=”arrow” expand_text=”Narcolepsy” collapse_text=”Narcolepsy” ]Narcolepsy is a rare neurological disorder which causes a person to feel excessively sleepy and to often fall asleep at times outwith their control.  The brain is unable to regulate its sleeping/waking patterns, resulting in excessive daytime sleepiness, cataplexy (loss of muscle control), falling asleep at inopportune moments (often without warning), sleep paralysis, and vivid dreams similar to hallucinations.  It can be difficult to cope with living with narcolepsy, due to the impact on relationships, work, and can take its toll emotionally.  See your GP if you think you are living with narcolepsy.[/bg_collapse]

[bg_collapse view=”link” color=”#263CD5″ icon=”arrow” expand_text=”Obstructive Sleep Apnoea (OSA)” collapse_text=”Obstructive Sleep Apnoea (OSA)” ]Obstructive sleep apnoea (OSA) is a relatively common condition where the walls of the throat relax and narrow during sleep, interrupting normal breathing during sleep, and risking a lack of adequate oxygen during sleep.  This may lead to regularly interrupted sleep, resulting in constantly feeling tired and unrested.  Someone with sleep apnoea may snore loudly, or gasp and grunt during sleep with short periods of interrupted or laboured breathing.  This condition can have a big impact on quality of life and increases the risk of developing certain conditions.  See your GP if you suspect you are living with sleep apnoea, where they can diagnose the condition and provide ways to manage the condition.[/bg_collapse]

[bg_collapse view=”link” color=”#263CD5″ icon=”arrow” expand_text=”Parasomnias” collapse_text=”Show Less” ]Parasomnias include a range of sleep disruptions such as nightmares, night terrors, sleepwalking, sleep talking, sleep paralysis and teeth grinding (Bruxism).[/bg_collapse]

[bg_collapse view=”link” color=”#263CD5″ icon=”arrow” expand_text=”Restless Leg Syndrome” collapse_text=”Restless Leg Syndrome” ]Restless Leg Syndrome (RLS) is a common condition of the nervous system, also known as Willis-Ekbom disease, where a person experiences involuntary jerking movements of the legs (and sometimes arms) in the evenings and during sleep.  This can happen occasionally or daily, be temporary or ongoing, depending on the severity of the condition.  RLS can cause sleep disruption, feelings of tiredness and daytime sleepiness, and can have a significant impact on quality of life if the symptoms are severe.  Severe RLS can contribute to developing anxiety and depression.  See your GP if you think you may be living with this condition.[/bg_collapse]

[bg_collapse view=”link” color=”#263CD5″ icon=”arrow” expand_text=”Sleepwalking” collapse_text=”Sleepwalking” ]Sleepwalking is classed as being able to perform complex actions and activities when in a deep sleep.  It is quite common in children but less so in adults.  Episodes of sleepwalking last for about 10 minutes and can be triggered by stress, or can be a result of a sleep disorder.  Often, the person may be unaware they have sleepwalked, or have little recollection about what happened.  If you see someone sleepwalking, guide them back to bed or to safety.  See your GP if you are an adult living with regular episodes of sleepwalking.[/bg_collapse] [/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]

Supporting sleep

To regulate sleep and achieve quality sleep, it is important to pro-actively maintain good sleep hygiene.

If you believe you may be living with a sleep disorder, see your GP for appropriate tests or to access specialist sleep support at a sleep clinic.  They will be able to rule out other reasons for your sleep disruption or sleepiness, and offer appropriate treatment and advice.

Sleep disruption can have an impact on your mental health and wellbeing, so consider accessing emotional support, via counselling or CBT-i.  This support can help to manage your wellbeing and improve anxiety relating to sleep issues.

Please contact us to access counselling support through the Sleep Support Project.