Having trouble sleeping is an extremely common phenomenon and poor sleep can occur at any time in our lives. Indeed a third of us at any one time will experience disturbed sleep. It is however, more common at certain stages of life, during pregnancy or menopause for example, or simply at times of high stress.
The root cause of sleep troubles can also vary widely; from the physical problems seen in Obstructive Sleep Apnoea patients, to the unpredictable schedules of shift workers.
It is important to remember that even the common cold can give us a sleepless night, or two. The key is to try not to worry too much about missing a little sleep, and trust your body to compensate with deeper, more restorative, sleep on following nights.
Acute trouble sleeping at night
People experiencing short-term trouble sleeping may find that some simple adjustments to their lifestyle and habits have a positive impact on their sleep.
We know, for example, that factors such as your daily schedule can greatly influence how you sleep during the night and that people who have an irregular schedule are more likely to experience poor sleep.
Everything, from what and when you eat in the evening, to the light levels you are exposed to during the day, has the potential to affect your sleep at night. Everyone responds differently to these factors however, so it is important to work out those that affect your sleep and how.
Chronic sleep troubles
Longer-term sleep problems are also very common. It is thought that around 10% of the population experience persistent trouble sleeping, rising to as high as high as 20% in people over 65 years of age.
Unfortunately, the options available to these chronic poor sleepers can be limited to prescription sleeping pills and over-the-counter remedies. Despite the steady increase in prescriptions for these medications and sales of over-the-counter sleep aids, studies have shown that people with poor sleep actually prefer a non-pharmacological approach to sleep improvement.
Research has also consistently shown that long-term sleep problems are helped most effectively by Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, or 'CBT', which aims to improve sleep using techniques that target the vicious cycle of negative thoughts and behaviors that maintain poor sleep.
CBT is usually delivered over the course of 6 to 8 weekly face-to-face sessions with a trained therapist, who teaches the person techniques that they can use at home to help themselves improve their sleep. Now online programs such as Sleepio allow people to access these proven, tailored techniques and receive continuous support, all via the web.