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How to alleviate your insomnia

On average, most humans spend 36% of our lives sleeping. During my teenage years, I used to think that sleep was a waste of time as I wasn’t living my life or being productive. But during my adult years, I have learnt more about why sleep is important. A lack of sleep affects our bodies, our brain function and our emotional state.

What happens if you don’t get enough sleep?

A lack of sleep has been linked to disease such as diabetes, weight gain and obesity, cardiovascular disease, inflammation and even mortality. The brain activity during sleep enables better thinking, learning and memory and enables emotional processing. When this processing does not occur, our mental health is affected with links to depression, anxiety disorders, bipolar disorders and suicide. And if you are anything like me (where ruminating thoughts pop into my head when I suddenly awaken in the middle of the night), you would have noticed that mental illness can also limit sleep. The research demonstrates that there’s a bi-directional relationship between mental illness and sleep disorders.

Are you getting enough sleep?

Many people have impaired sleep or are not getting the sleep they need, for example, adolescents are having 6.5-7.5 hours a weeknight as opposed to the recommended 8-10 hours. The National Sleep Foundation’s recommended sleep duration by age are shown in the graph to the left.

How to Get a Better Night’s Sleep. Do you pay attention to your sleeping habits? It pays off to notice your sleep patterns and sleeping environment or your ‘sleep hygiene’. Sleep hygiene involves creating good habits (such as regular exercise, limiting caffeine and alcohol consumption) and ensuring an environment conducive to good sleep (such as dimmed lights and comfortable bedding). There’s no harm in trying these tips as it is cost effective and may solve your sleep problems. If you’ve tried them though and still have disrupted sleep or insomnia, you may want to try a proven technique called dCBT-I.

dCBT-I is an evidence based, multicomponent program based on cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) often used to help insomnia and alleviate symptoms of depression. It includes cognitive, behavioural and educational components such as sleep restriction, stimulus control, reframing of thoughts, sleep hygiene and relaxation techniques. The ‘d’ refers to a digital program, allowing access to the wider population as opposed to the traditional delivery of CBT by a therapist.

dCBT-I has shown promising results with initial studies indicating that it has similar effects as face-to-face delivery and can help young people sleep better, however further studies are required to determine its effectiveness. I went on the hunt to find an app that could help with sleep and found that there are so many apps, however most of them centered around sleep stories or sounds with limited evidence. I did find a great app based on CBT-I called ‘Insomnia Coach’ which is developed by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. This app has been found to be effective for male and female veterans between the ages of 18 and 55 and is a great alternative to medication and face-to-face therapy. They also mention that it has been effective for civilians, although I couldn’t find research verifying this claim. I have started to use the app and have been logging my sleep patterns. The interface is not as user friendly as I would have liked (a bit clunky) but I’ll try and stick with it as its most likely that effects won’t be realized until after 12 weeks rather than at the end of the 5 week program. If you try the app, let me know! I’d love to hear if it helps you.

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