Why Can’t I Get a Good Night’s Sleep?

On a scale of 1 to 10 how well did you sleep last night? If you are like one in five Australians, you have called in sick to work because you were too tired. An alarming 25% of full-time workers are taking an over the counter or prescribed sleep aid. It seems like Australians are in the middle of a sleep deprivation epidemic!


What are the causes of Poor Sleep?


Psycho – Physiological


70% of all sleep problems are related to a misalignment in 3 main systems that control sleep.

  1. Sleep drive – how tired you are when it’s the time for you to go to bed. This can be affected by what you are doing in the lead up to bed (working in the evening, watching tv or looking at your phone in bed vs having a calming routine and turning off devices in the lead up to sleep).
  2. Biological clock – this impacts your circadian rhythm which determines your sleep pattern (a disruption to your circadian rhythm is the problem in jetlag). Your circadian rhythm can be impacted by excessive light when it’s time for sleep.
  3. Fight or Flight System – which can be triggered by lifestyle worry and stress that you have not resolved. The flight or flight system prepares us to deal with danger by not letting us fall asleep (even if it’s just the ‘danger’ of an argument at work, or worrying about money).


Medical Problems


One of the medical problems that can lead to poor sleep is Obstructive Sleep Apnea. This is a disorder where the poor sleeper stops breathing up to 30 times an hour because their airways are obstructed. If you (or the person you share a bed with) are a heavy snorer, wake up gasping for breath, or are extremely fatigued during the day it is important that you speak to your G.P. Only 10% of poor sleepers have sleep apnea, and medical reasons only account for 15% of sleep problems, so your solution to a better night’s sleep is not likely to be a medical one.


Environmental Factors


Another 15% of sleep problems are caused by environmental factors, such as a noisy environment (dogs barking, traffic noise, a snoring partner), too much light in the room, or a room or bed that is too hot or too cold.


What is the Impact of Poor Sleep?


An occasional poor night of sleep will leave you feeling irritable, tired and unable to focus.


Ongoing poor sleep


After several nights of poor sleep you will:

  • Notice that you are mentally foggy, have difficulty concentrating and making decisions and become more accident prone.
  • Become emotionally fragile and start to feel down.
  • HavA higher risk of obesity, heart disease, diabetes, and high blood pressure are all related to chronic poor sleep. While sleep problems have often been noted as a symptom for mental health conditions like depression and anxiety, there is increasing evidence that sleep problems may be a causal factor for these disorders (particularly depression) developing.


What can be done to improve sleep?


Sleeping pills will do more harm than good. Sleeping pills don’t allow you to correct the reasons for your sleep disturbance, and they should only be used in times of very acute stress or grief. The good news is most sleep problems are very treatable with Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT). CBT will help you to recognise and change your beliefs that affect your ability to sleep, will help you to develop good sleep habits and avoid behaviors that impact on your ability to sleep well.

If you would like to learn how to naturally get a better night’s sleep then speaking with a Psychologist is a great first step.

Do you lead with the most relevant part or do you lead with the main reason why a Psychologist would be writing an article on this?

I think lead with this part as it is the case for the majority (70% of cases), so more relatable to a large audience. Then have the other 2 reasons which are 15% follow this one.


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Clinical Psychology Registrar
M.Psych (Clin Psychology)
B. Psych. (Honours)

Elena has experience assessing and treating adults, children and families in University and Community settings. Elena has worked with a range of presentations including anxiety, depression and other mood disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder and attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder.

Elena is passionate about providing warm and empathic support to clients using a variety of evidence based approaches, including Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) and Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT). Elena has a particular interest in working with young adults as they manage the transition into adulthood. In addition to working in private practice, Elena is completing a PhD investigating intergenerational trauma and the relationship between parent and child mental health.


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