Can’t sleep? Help is on the way

Most of us have experienced
sleepless nights in our lives at some point, but some of us constantly struggle
with getting restful sleep on a day-to-day basis. 

Restful sleep can be defined as
sleep that promotes deep sleep during the night and increased energy, feeling
alert and increased focus the next morning. Often we forget the importance of
getting a restful sleep because our lives are overwhelmed with things we deem
more important, such as work, family, friends, homework assignments, late night
drinks at a bar or surfing on the internet late at night.  

Stress we experience in our lives
can also affect the quality of our sleep. If we are under a lot of stress and
worry, we are more likely to experience sleep problems. For example, a pending
project at work, financial worries or conflicts within the family may
contribute to the sleepless nights. 
Stressful situations and worries can create incessant thoughts in our
minds, which can deter restful sleep.


Link to depression

The link between sleep and
depression is strongly supported by a number of research studies. People
experiencing depression can experience various types of sleep problems, from
not being able to fall asleep, sleeping too many hours yet still feeling tired,
or waking up in the early hours and unable to fall back asleep.

Some of us may probably experience
how sleep also affects our mood. After a sleepless night, you may be more
irritable, short-tempered, and vulnerable to stress. Small amounts of sleep
loss, for example, one hour per night over many nights, may produce slight
changes in mood. Once you sleep well, your mood often returns to normal.


Severe mood changes

However, more severe sleep problems
for a week or more may lead to severe mood changes, such as feelings of
depression or anxiety. For example, poor sleep can increase irritability and
decrease focus/concentration. A person who has experienced poor sleep over time
may cope ineffectively with interpersonal conflicts and/or perform poorly at
work. The person may also experience more anger, sadness, and/or anxiety in
various situations.

However, whether sleep deprivation
causes mood changes or vice versa is hard to define, but we know that lack of
sleep can cause mood changes and may contribute to the development of severe
mood disorders.

Most of the time we fail to make
this connection between our experiences with stress and sleep. However, being
aware of this connection may help in solving the sleep problem a lot faster.

In addition, caffeine, nicotine,
and alcohol, which we may use to cope with our lack of sleep and stress, can
also contribute to poor sleep.

Caffeine, which can stay in your
system as long as 14 hours, increases the number of times you awaken at night.

Nicotine in low doses tends to act
as a sedative, while at high doses it causes sleep disturbance. 

Alcohol may make it easier to fall
asleep; however, it will prevent you from achieving restful sleep, evident by
feelings of fatigue on the following day. These arousals disturb sleep and can
cause intense dreaming, sweating, and headache.


How do we sleep?

Approximately every 90 minutes, a
normal sleeper cycles between two major categories of sleep: 

Quiet sleep:  During this time a person’s body temperature
drops, muscles relax and heart rate and breathing slow. The deepest stage of
quiet sleep produces changes that help boost immune system functioning.

REM (rapid eye movement)
sleep:  This is the period when people
dream. Body temperature, blood pressure, heart rate and breathing increase to
levels measured when people are awake. Studies report that REM sleep enhances
learning and memory and contributes to emotional health.


Types of sleep problems

Difficulty getting off to sleep –
often due to lying in bed with thoughts going round in your head.

Frequently waking up during the

Waking early in the morning and not
being able to get back to sleep.

Waking up in the morning feeling
‘un-refreshed’ and feeling tired through the day even after a good number of
hours of sleep.

Sleeping too much and still feeling

Sleep apnoea. If you think you have
this disorder, you should consult a physician.


Sleep tips

From having occasional difficulty
sleeping to insomnia, there is a lot you can do to get a better night’s sleep,
feel refreshed when you wake up and remain alert throughout the day. It’s
called “sleep hygiene” and refers to those practices, habits and environmental
factors that are critically important for sound sleep. And most of it is under
your control.

Lifestyle changes. Give up alcohol,
nicotine and/or caffeine, which can prevent you from getting restful sleep. Try
cutting our caffeine-based drinks after 6pm.

Physical activity. Regular aerobic
activity helps people fall asleep faster, spend more time in deep sleep and
awaken less often during the night. However, exercising too close to bedtime
may prevent you from falling asleep since exercise usually increases your

Stay away from big meals at night.
Avoid heavy, rich foods within two hours of bedtime. Avoid spicy or acidic
foods in the evening, as they can cause stomach trouble and heartburn.

Sleep hygiene. This is a term
psychologists use to refer to positive sleep habits.  Maintain a regular sleep-and-wake schedule
and use the bedroom only for sleeping or sex. The bedroom should be free of
distractions like the computer or television, so put the laptop away and turn
off the television.

Relaxation techniques. Meditation,
guided imagery, deep breathing exercises and progressive muscle relaxation
(alternately tensing and releasing muscles) can help to induce sleep faster.

Cognitive behavioural therapy. Work
with a trained counsellor to use cognitive behavioural techniques to reduce
stress and anxiety; this can enhance your ability to gain restful sleep.


Thinn Aung is an EAP
If you are looking to improve your sleep, call the EAP to book an appointment
with a counsellor by contacting The Employee Assistance Programme on 949-9559
or email [email protected] Visit for more information


There is a lot you can do to get a better night’s sleep, feel refreshed when you wake up and remain alert throughout the day.
Photo: File