Do sleep problems normally pass quite quickly?

Image of Professor Colin Espie
By Professor Colin Espie

Is it unusual to have an ongoing sleep problem? How common are sleep problems?

Occasional sleep disturbance is of course very common, and one might say very normal. Everyone experiences difficulty getting to sleep or staying asleep at some time in their lives. Often at times of change or times of stress. This is the way that nature intends things. Stressors are essentially 'threats' that our brain interprets as danger signs when we need heightened awareness. This makes it harder to down-regulate arousal into sleep and we experience that not only physiologically but also mentally when our mind is focused on the things that are going on in our lives.

These problems usually sort themselves out and end up being short-lived, and so is the poor sleep that goes with them. However, we know from leading sleep epidemiologists like Dr Maurice Ohayon of Stanford University that about 10 per cent of adults, that is 1 in 10 people, experience persistent sleep problems, and this can be as high as 1 in 5 (20 per cent) in people over 65 years of age. There are probably even more people out there who suffer with poor sleep but who do not seek help for it. The 3 P's model helps us to understand how persistent poor sleep can evolve from an acute sleep disturbance.

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Mayers, A.G., Baldwin, D.S. (2005). Antidepressants and their effect on sleep. Human Psychopharmacology, 20(8), 533-559.

Filed under: Sleep disorders