Come Sleep! O Sleep, the certain knot of peace,
The baiting-place of wit, the balm of woe,
The poor man's wealth, the prisoner's release,
Th' indifferent judge between the high and low.
With shield of proof shield me from out the prease
Of those fierce darts despair at me doth throw:
O make in me those civil wars to cease;
I will good tribute pay, if thou do so.
Take thou of me smooth pillows, sweetest bed,
A chamber deaf to noise and blind to light,
A rosy garland and a weary head:
And if these things, as being thine by right,
Move not thy heavy grace, thou shalt in me,
Livelier than elsewhere, Stella's image see.
-Sir Philip Sidney
The importance of sleep
Sleep is an important function of all living creatures, everyone in the animal kingdom has some variation of a sleep wake cycle. However why is sleep so important in humans? Research has shown that sleep has many functions.
Sleep helps us to consolidate what we have learned into memory through acquisition (information introduced to our brain), consolidation (the process of memorizing the information in the brain), and recall (information being brought up in any mental state). Those who have impaired sleep, can have impacts on memory and learning (Healthy Sleep, 2007).
Another example of the importance of sleep is its impact on mood. Having a good night sleep can lead to feeling energized, motivated, and content. In the reverse, impaired sleep or insomnia can lead to irritability, increased stress, or even the development of a mood disorder (Get Sleep, 2008).
Sleep also has an impact on body restoration. Certain hormones are released during sleep that is responsible for tissue repair and muscle growth. Another restorative factor sleep can assist in cognitive functioning, which may impact in learning and memory. Recent research has also found the importance of sleep on Neuroplasticity.
We previously believed in the idea that if we don’t use certain neurons through practice our brain loses the capacity to use it in the future (use or lose it principle). We now know that it isn’t true, as our brain has what is called Neuroplasticity, which the brain’s ability to form new neurological connections. We do this in everyday life, from learning something new (even if it is small), to sleep, to psychotherapy. We are making new neurological connections without realizing it! Proper sleep helps strengthen and these newer neurlogical connections.
Conditions that effect sleep
Knowing that sleep is very important and its impact that it can have on our brain, mind, and body, what happens when certain conditions impair sleep?
Mental Health CONDITIONS
There are several mental health conditions that can impact sleep. Anxiety, for example, can severely impact sleep. During the first part of the pandemic, many people were experiencing fear, uncertainty, stress, and many other emotions that naturally turned into anxiety. When one is feeling anxious their mind can race, especially while laying in bed trying to fall asleep. As a result of the anxiety, many individuals struggled to get enough sleep which could also further impact their mood.
Another symptom of anxiety that impacts sleep is hyperarousal, the state of being excessively alert. Therefore, when one is trying to sleep while also experiencing hyperarousal, they may be quick to awaken from even the smallest of stimuli (hearing a small thud from the apartment above, for example) and ready to react.
Certain types of anxiety can also lead to nightmares. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and other anxiety and stress disorders can cause night terrors and nightmares that can impact a person’s relationship to sleep. Due to the fear of having night terrors or nightmares, one can also experience anticipatory anxiety.
Depression is another mental health condition that can impact sleep. Depression can impair sleep as well as sleep can impact depression. Due to this relationship, it can be difficult to know which condition caused which symptom. Depression is characterized by experiencing sleep-related symptoms of insomnia, hypersomnia, as well as having abnormal levels of Serotonin, a neurotransmitter that is important for regulation of sleep as well as other bodily functions.
There are also several medical conditions that impact sleep. In fact, there are several sleep disorders that can be treated with medication or devices, such as Sleep Apnea, a disorder that is related to breathing disruptions, and Narcolepsy, a sleep disorder related to regulation of the sleep-wake cycle. These are just a few types of sleep disorders, however there are many more conditions that fall under the umbrella of sleep disorders. There are also several chronic medical conditions that impact sleep.
Inflammatory chronic conditions such as, Arthritis, Fibromyalgia, and Inflammatory Bowel Diseases, can impair one’s sleep leading to the symptom of fatigue. Sleep disturbances can be a result of pain impacting one’s sleep, as pain is common in areas of inflammation. When someone is experiencing pain it can lead to mood dysregulation resulting in sleep disturbance conjointly with the the physical discomfort. Furthermore, research has shown that sleep disturbance can result in higher levels of C-Reactive Protein (CRP), a marker of inflammation, suggesting that sleep impairment and inflammation are directly correlated.
Much like the aforementioned inflammatory conditions as well as cancer can impact one’s immunity. Our immune system is very important in our ability to fight off infections, and for those with a compromised immune system, contraction of infections can be regular occurrence or fear of contraction. Research has also found that sleep impacts immunity; when one has impaired sleep their immune system has difficulty fighting off infections. This also can further compound an already compromised immune system, leading to increased infections and overall feeling of being unwell, increased inflammation, and the cyclical nature of impaired sleep. (Simpson & Dinges, 2007).
Sleep hygiene is defined by the healthy habits one practices on a regular basis to promote restful sleep. The Sleep Foundation lists some great steps to improve sleep hygiene that is summarized below.
Setting a consistent sleep schedule
- Go to bed and wake up at the same time everyday, regardless of weekend day
- If you want to change your bedtime/wake up routine, make changes gradually
- Try not to take as many naps; if you do take naps, have short 10-20 minute naps in the early afternoon
Have a bed time routine
- Having a consistent bedtime routine can prep your mind for bedtime
- Take 30 minutes to wind down before going to bed by doing something relaxing and not stimulating
- Refrain form using electronics 30-60 minutes before bed, as the screens can be overstimulating to your brain
- If you haven’t fallen asleep within 20 minutes of lying in your bed, get out of bed, do something relaxing, and then try again
Have healthy daily habits
- Try and get some sunlight exposure to promote healthy circadian rhythm
- Build a exercise/movement routine that is right for your ability
- Limit smoking and alcohol consumption
- Skipping on caffeinated beverages in the afternoon and evening
- Try to eat and drink 2 hours before bed (be mindful of heaving/spicy meals); if you need to eat or drink something before bed try to make it small to not wake you up in the middle of the night
- Regulate activity in bed to only sleep and sex
Having a restful and Relaxing environment
- Having a bed, pillow, and sheets that matches your comfort needs
- Have a cool and dark sleeping environment
- Have devices that block or drown out noise (i.e. ear plugs, noise cancelling machines, etc.) to not wake you in the middle of the night
Neurofeedback as a treatment strategy for sleep impairment
Now we know why sleep is important, what can affect sleep, and how we can improve sleep with proper sleep hygiene. But what if sleep hygiene isn’t enough to get a good night’s rest and there are more underlying issues that impact sleep. Therapy can be very helpful if the underlying symptom of sleep impairment originates from a mental health condition. However if there is a neurological reason for sleep challenges (either from mental health or medical conditions) a treatment strategy must address the neurological source of the disturbance.
Neurofeedback is a form of biofeedback that encourages healthy neurological connections through the use of training one’s brain to effectively operate in specific conditions. Therefore, in regards to sleep, Neurofeedback training promotes healthy brain activity during the sleep state by regulating one’s brainwaves.
In some cases, sleep and brain activity can be effected by the situation. In one study looking at college students with sleep onset insomnia, they found that poor sleepers had difficulty regulating their alpha brainwave. This suggested the use of neuro-regulating therapies to promote neuroflexibility (Buckelew et. al., 2013).
In another study that focused on the Central Nervous System, researchers studied the effects of electromyography tele-biofeedback versus tele-neurofeedback in subjects with insomnia. They found that not only does neurofeedback improved the amount of sleep in subjects, but also the efficacy of remote neurofeedback (Cortoos, 2010).
As previously mentioned, chronic health conditions can impact sleep, such as fibromyalgia, a condition where a patient experiences pain throughout their body and experience several other symptoms (including sleep disturbance and fatigue). In a study that researched the efficacy of neurofeedback in patients with fibromyalgia, researchers found that neurofeedback protocols that focused on alpha brainwave and sensorimotor rhythm regulation in an 8-week program produced significant results. Patients experienced sleep improvement and pain severity reduction (Wu, Fang, et al., 2021).
Neurofeedback is an evidence-based treatment strategy that does not utilize pharmaceutical intervention to treat sleep problems. In some cases, neurofeedback conjoint with behavioral modifications can drastically improve, if not alleviate, symptoms of fatigue due to sleep impairment.
Anxiety and Sleep, Suni, E., Sleep Foundation (March 2022).
Buckelew et. al, Neuroflexibility and Sleep Onset Insomnia Among College Students: Implications for Neurotherapy, Journal of Neurotherapy (2013). doi: https://doi.org/10.1080/10874208.2013.784681
Cortoos, A., De Valck, E., Arns, M. et al. An Exploratory Study on the Effects of Tele-neurofeedback and Tele-biofeedback on Objective and Subjective Sleep in Patients with Primary Insomnia. Appl Psychophysiol Biofeedback 35, 125–134 (2010). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10484-009-9116-z
Get Sleep– Harvard Medical School
Gorgoni et. al., Is Sleep Essential for Neural Plasticity in Humans, and How Does It Affect Motor and Cognitive Recovery?. Hindawi, 2013. doi: 10.1155/2013/103949
Healthy Sleep– Harvard Medical School
Sleep Disorders, Rehman, A., Sleep Foundation (December 2020)
Sleep and Inflammation, Simpson & Dinges, Wiley (December 2007)
Yu-Lin Wu, Su-Chen Fang, Shih-Ching Chen, Chen-Jei Tai, Pei-Shan Tsai, Effects of Neurofeedback on Fibromyalgia: A Randomized Controlled Trial. Pain Management Nursing, Volume 22, Issue 6 (2021).
Board Certified Clinicians at TriWellness Provide Neurofeedback
This month’s blog post was written by Aarti S. Felder, MA, LCPC, BCN, our Chronic Illness Specialist and Board Certified in Neurofeedback Therapist.