Sleeping disorders

The lack of quality sleep is a common problem that has a significant impact on our performance, emotions and general health. For many of us sleeping is a natural part of our routine which we enjoy and take for granted.  Sleep is accentual to our mind and body; however, few of us appreciate just how much we need good sleep or what happens when we don’t get enough.

What is a sleep disorder?

We have all found ourselves lying awake on rare occasions and most people are able to return to a healthy sleep pattern.  However, for some people sleeping problems is a far more common occurrence which plays havoc on their physical, mental and emotional functioning.

Sleep disorders is the term used to describe any problems relating to sleep, such as insomnia, night terrors, sleep bruxism, and even bedwetting.  Some sleep disorders may stem from an underlying medical condition such as a psychological disorder, some may occur as side effects of prescribed medication and others may have no known explicable reason.

The sleep cycle

Sleep may seem like one long continued state of unconsciousness, it is actually a process made up of several stages. Sleep is a reoccurring cycle which can be split into two main categories of Rapid Eye Movement (REM) and Non Rapid Eye Movement (NREM).

Non-REM sleep

Non-REM sleep is the first phase of the sleep cycle we experience, which occurs in four stages. The first of the phases is often referred to as ‘light sleep’.  During “light sleep” muscle activity slows down and during this phase we can still be easily roused. Approximately 10-15 minutes into the “light sleep” stage we begin to move into the second stage which has an average duration of around 20 to 25 minutes.  During stage two breathing and heart rate slows. The final stages is where we into deep sleep.  Deep sleep is where we begin producing delta waves and the rate of breathing and heart rate slow to their lowest levels during the sleep cycle. After this we enter the final phase of non-REM sleep which is characterized by a combination of limited muscle activity and rhythmic breathing. In this state of deep sleep we tend to feel disorientated when woken.

During non-REM sleep the body has the opportunity to fix any wear and tear from throughout the day, repairing and regenerating tissue, building muscle and bone and strengthening the immune system.

REM sleep

It is estimated that approximately 25 per cent of the sleep cycle is spent in REM sleep.  REM sleep begins approximately 75 to 80 minutes into sleep. During REM sleep the brain is at its most active, our breathing rate and blood pressure rise and our eyes dart from side to side. Despite increased activity in the brain, our muscles remain paralyzed.  We experience between three and five REM episodes each night and after REM sleep the whole cycle begins again.

As the night progresses each cycle will become less dominated by the non-REM phases and progressively more dominated by REM sleep. Dreams can occur throughout any sleep stage but the most vivid dreams tend to be reported when people are awoken from REM sleep.

Types of Sleep Disorders and Parasomnias

Parasomnias are a category of sleep disorders that involve abnormal and unnatural movements, behaviors, emotions, perceptions, and dreams that occur while falling asleep, sleeping, between sleep stages, or during arousal from sleep Listed below are a few of the most common sleep disorders and parasomnias which are affecting people today:

Confusional Arousals

Confusional arousals are episodes during which individuals awake from sleep but remain in a confused state. People with confusional arousal will react very slowly when spoken to and may have difficulty understanding simple questions. Most of the times the effects of confusional arousal are mild and will only last a few minutes before the individual returns to sleep.

Generally confusional arousals themselves are harmless, though they can be an indicator of a further sleep disorder which could be what is causing the arousals from sleep. Conditions such as sleep apnea and restless legs syndrome may cause increased movement during light sleep which could result in confusional arousals.

Restless Leg Syndrome

Restless Leg Syndrome causes unpleasant and uncontrollable sensations in the legs which result in an overwhelming urge to move them. Symptoms occur when a person is relaxing so predominantly during the night and moving the legs tends to help in relieving some discomfort.

Failure to treat this issue can result in extreme fatigue and exhaustion which could have a detrimental effect on an individual’s work, relationships and daily activities.


Sleepwalking is characterized by an individual walking and roaming the house when they are still asleep. Sleepwalkers normally have their eyes open but are clumsy and confused as they walk in their sleep.  Sometimes individuals will talk but seldom make sense in what they say and often do not remember what took place the next morning.

Contributing factors include sleep deprivation, stress, alcohol intoxication and drugs such as sleeping aids, neuroleptics (used to treat psychosis), antihistamines (used to treat allergies), tranquilizers and stimulants.

Sleep Bruxism (Teeth Grinding)

Sleep bruxism is involuntary teeth grinding and clenching during sleep which can result in dental damage and jaw discomfort. For many sufferers bruxism occurs as a side effect of a psychiatric or medical condition such as Parkinson’s disease, anxiety or depression and experts have also found links between the condition and certain medications such as recreational drugs (cocaine and ecstasy) and antidepressants.

Sleep Paralysis

An individual experiencing sleep paralysis will find that they are unable to move their body or limbs either at sleep onset or upon awakening. According to sleep experts this tends to happen in the REM stage when sleep is suddenly interrupted during a dream. As discussed in the above, paralysis is normal whilst we are sleeping as the body secretes hormones which relax the muscles to prevent us from acting out our dreams. However, when we wake suddenly in the midst of a dream these hormones are unable to wear off quickly enough meaning that though our minds are conscious our bodies are not.

Though this disorder does not cause the sufferer any harm, it is a frightening experience which can be an isolated incident or a reoccurring problem.

Nightmare Disorder

Nightmares are vivid and frightening dreams. These kinds of dream are a natural part of our lives and we will all experience them at one time or another. However, for some individuals nightmares begin to occur frequently and can become a worrying and disruptive issue especially in vulnerable groups such as young children.

Nightmare disorder is not to be confused with night terrors, which is a condition characterized by episodes of extreme panic and confusion of which the dreamer has no memory.

In the case of nightmare disorder though dreams are not exclusively associated with a mental disorder, some sufferers may have experienced a previous trauma which reoccurs in their dreams.

Nocturnal Enuresis (bed-wetting)

Nocturnal enuresis or bed-wetting as it is otherwise known is the unintentional passing of urine during sleep. There are two main forms of the condition, primary and secondary enuresis. The term secondary enuresis is used to describe a relapse in an individual who had previously had urinary control. Primary enuresis on the other hand is when an individual has consistently struggled to maintain bladder control and may find that medical conditions such as diabetes, sleep apnea and psychiatric disorders can act as contributing factors.

Nocturnal enuresis also occurs in adults and can be very embarrassing and uncomfortable. If the condition begins quite suddenly in someone with no previous history of bedwetting then it is likely that something has acted as a trigger such as a physical trauma or another sleep disorder.

Sufferers may attempt to mask their symptoms which could eventually impact their emotional state and relationships. In some severe cases where the bed-wetting is frequent it may prevent adults from entering relationships for fear of their partner finding out and they also may not feel comfortable going on business trips or holidays which require them to be away from home.

Night Terrors

Night terror sufferers will wake suddenly from sleep in a panic-stricken state. Though at this stage it may seem as though the sufferer is awake they will often be disorientated, confused and incapable of communicating. The length of time the terror lasts will vary from person to person but during this time the sufferer will generally be very difficult to awaken and after a while will usually lie down and appear to fall back asleep. In the morning sufferers will usually have no recollection of the night’s events.

How can hypnosis help?

If you are experiencing a sleep disorder then it is important that you visit your family doctor who will be able to provide you with a diagnosis and advice as well as being able to rule out any serious underlying medical conditions. At this stage your doctor may then recommend or refer specialist treatment and services, one of which may be hypnotherapy.

Clinical hypnosis is all about changing patterns of behavior and that is why it works so effectively as a treatment for many sleep disorders. Though the cause of each sleep disorder will vary from person to person, there are many conditions which are thought to factor into an increased prevalence of some sleep problems in certain individuals. Certain psychiatric disorders sleep deprivation, various medical conditions and medications as well as previous trauma are all thought to be underlying causes of many a sleep disorder.

Clinical hypnosis has long been used as a way of altering and reconditioning negative patterns of behavior and it is able to do so by accessing the unconscious mind so it can seek out the root cause of the problem and alter an individual’s perception of it.

Many sleep disorders can be linked to stress and anxiety issues.  Hypnosis can be used to effectively reduce or lesson these factors. Usually it is not a situation itself which causes stress but the way in which we react to it. By inducing a state of deep relaxation in an individual a clinical hypnotist will be able to gain access to the unconscious mind so that negative thought patterns and reactions to a particular situation can be addressed.