Insomnia and Sleep Difficulties

How to improve insomnia.

Do you wake up feeling refreshed and ready for the day when you open your eyes in the morning? If your answer is no, then read on, you are in good hands. Your ability to stay awake and to be alert, or to sleep peacefully and restfully when you need, largely depends on brain function and emotional regulation.  According to Mental Health UK around 1 in 5 people in the UK don’t get enough, good quality, sleep. Sleeping too much or too little can have wide ranging implications on our health and well-being, and should be considered as important as a healthy diet and regular physical exercise.

A circadian rhythm is a natural, internal biological process that regulates the sleep-wake cycle and repeats roughly every 24 hours.  Your circadian rhythm is regulated by your body’s internal master clock located in the brain.  This master clock controls many biological functions over a 24 hour period, such as the release of hormones, body temperature changes, and sleep-wake cycles.  You may notice how you tend to feel energised and drowsy around the same times every day, this is your circadian rhythm at work.

Emotional dysregulation corresponds with the brain nervous system that is not expressing emotions in a balanced way, so that sympathetic arousal is not subsequently down-regulated effectively with parasympathetic activity. Emotional regulation is a common influence on our abilty to fall asleep and stay asleep.

The rates of sleeplessness have increased dramatically with more and more of us staying up late using screen time during our evening wind-down time. This impacts our circadian rhythm which becomes out of sync and sleep difficulties and insomnia are a frequent consequence. 

Signs and symptoms

  • Difficulty in sleeping or sticking to regular sleeping habits
  • Not feeling refreshed when waking from sleep
  • Having difficulty concentrating or focusing on a task for any length of time
  • Irritability or excessive anxiety
  • Experiencing accidents at work or at home because of sleepiness or loss of concentration
  • Moodiness or depression
  • Low immune system leading to the development of coughs, colds and flus
  • Weight gain
  • Low sex drive

It is also believed that sleep problems experienced over a long period of time can lead to a higher risk of developing illnesses such as diabetes or heart disease.

Symptoms of Sleep Difficulties

  • Difficulty in sleeping or sticking to regular sleeping habits
  • Not feeling refreshed in the morning
  • Lack of focus and concentration
  • irritability, anxiety
  • depression
  • dissociation
  • weight gain due to eating higher carbohydrate foods for energy
  • compromised immune system

Causes of Sleep Difficulties and Insomnia 

Stress and Anxiety

Stress and anxiety affect hwo the nervous system works and rpodices stress hormones and chemicals that keep us on alert and primed for self defence. If we in a chronic state of parasympathetic activity then our sleep-wake system is compromised as the brain will prioritise self defence over sleep. 


Pople with trauma histories often report difficutlies with sleep because remaining switched on with hyperarousal and hypervigilance is better for survival. When trauma survivors do get drowsy and fall asleep they often get jolted back awake as the nervous systems forces them back into a wakeful and alert state. When we fall asleep, we let go of conscious control and often gain access to memories that are unprocessed and not yet consolidated into long term storage. These memories can turn into nightmares and perpetutate hyperarousal and distress. Trauma survivors also share that sleep has become distressing even though they are exhausted.


Depression can affect sleep in different ways. For some it is too little sleep, particularly if anxiety or burnout is also part of the picture, and for others it is the need to sleep for many more hours than usual. 

In either case natural sleep cycles become disrupted and sufferers often fall into irregular sleep habits, which in turn affect functioning and mood during the day.


Burnout often follows a period of having pushed oneself physically and mentally beyond the limits of what is healthy and balanced. TO the nervous system this can feel similar to a trauma reaction where the nervous system has worked at capacity for so long that it has become stuck in hyperarousal and can lead to dissociation. The rain and nervous sytem have difficulty down regulating back to balance and are unable to recover effectively. 

The levelof hyperarousal means that circadiam rhythms have been disrupted and no longer function as they should so that sleep becomes problematic.

Poor sleep routines

Our circadian rhythm is essentially a biologically driven routine. Modern day life means that we are often working against our biological rhythms and our sleep-wake routines can vary a lot between weekdays and weekends. 

Blue light from screens, eating late, drinking caffeine late in the day, drinking alcohol at night, staying up late and associating our sleep space with work are all other examples of factors that can affect sleep.

Therapy for Insomnia and Sleep Difficulties

In my therapy practice I target this problem area with a number of approaches. 

Psychotherapy can help you to understand more about the possible origins of your sleep troubles. For many it can be linked to anxiety and stress and this can result from behaviour and thinking patterns in reaction to circumstances. Building a clear picture of what might be contributing to your sleep disruption can help you make changes that can pave the way for more emotional balance and the ability to fall asleep and stay asleep. 

NeurOptimal Neurofeedback is also very helpful with sleep difficulties because it directly trains the brain to harness its ability to self regulate. The brain continues to learn and change over our lifetime and it is this neuroplasticity that neurofeedback helps with. Our brain and nervous system are designed to seek balance and when the brain regulates as it is supposed to, sleep tends to improve and deepen.

Breathwork uses different breathing techniques to help regulate the nervous system. We know that the vagus nerve, the seat of our parasympathetic nervous system and our ability to return to calm after stress. has nerve endings throughout our respiratory system and that breathing in certain ways changes activates parasympathetic activity. Breathing is also free and accessible all the time so it is a very handy way to regulate the nervous system and emotions 24/7.

Brainspotting is a therapy technique that targets how the brain processes emotions and memories. Using eye position to find activated ‘brain spots’ for emotions, sensation or sensations in the body means that the brain can be harnessed to balance the source of emotional dysregulation in the deeper brain areas.