Managing difficulties with sleep

We all need good quality sleep to function well, but many of us have problems with it at times in life. Sight loss is an unwanted change in life which can affect a person’s physical and emotional health, bringing many unwanted changes.

Accepting this and adapting will naturally raise feelings of loss, depression and anxiety, and result in uncertainty about the future, which may well lead to issues with sleep.

Some examples of issues with sleep may include finding it hard to fall asleep, disturbed sleep or waking up earlier than you’d like, as well as finding it hard to wake up or get out of bed.

Common effects of sleep issues

If you’re having problems with getting enough sleep you may find yourself feeling more anxious, depressed and irritable. Your resilience to deal with day-to-day life may be weaker, and you may find it harder to concentrate on things and make decisions and plans. In more extreme situations it could impact your mental health and lead to thoughts of suicide or self-harm.

What causes problems with sleep?

It may be helpful to determine whether your sleep issues are due to a health issue or medication, the emotional and psychological impact of sight loss, or a combination of these reasons.

Worry and stress are common in issues with sleep deprivation, and when thinking about sight loss specifically, it can be caused due to loss of independence, uncertainty about a sight condition and further sight deterioration, financial issues, housing or work issues, the future and more.

Anxiety can lead to racing or repetitive thoughts which increase worrying that can keep you awake. A more intense form of this can result in panic attacks while you’re trying to sleep.

If you are depressed, you may sleep more and find yourself getting out of bed later than usual. This can also link to feeling less motivated to get out of bed.

Certain medications may also affect sleep as can other health issues such as arthritis for example which can cause pain.

Sleep patterns are largely governed by what is known as the circadian rhythm which follows a daily 24-hour cycle. Light (daytime) and darkness (night-time) helps trigger a biological process that aids in us feeling it’s time to wake up and time to go to sleep. For some people who have no light perception this daily rhythm may be disrupted resulting in their sleep pattern being out of sync with everyone else. This is also known as non-24 and as with other sleeping difficulties can impact mood and mental health.

Life is complex and there may be other issues and stresses in life that might affect sleep including the use of recreational drugs and alcohol, current or past trauma, relationship issues and more. Being able to identify the causes will help with being able to tackle them.

Things that may help:

  • Try to establish a regular sleeping routine by going to bed and waking up at the same time every day.
     
  • A relaxation routine can also help you prepare for sleep. For example, you could listen to relaxing music or nature sounds, or have a bath before bed to help you wind down.
     
  • For some people meditation (also known as mindfulness) can help quieten the mind. This could involve spending a few minutes focusing on your breathing before bed or whilst lying in bed.
     
  • Looking after yourself physically can also help improve your sleep.
     
  • Minimising some types of food such as sugar and caffeine, or not eating large meals right before going to bed can also help, as can physical activity even if gentle.
     
  • Spending time outside can also help you relax and improve your wellbeing.

Additional help

If you are worried about problems with sleep it may be helpful to see your GP who can give you a health check and help you access other treatment and support. They may offer sleeping medication to help with short periods of severe insomnia and can also refer you for counselling which may help with understanding and managing the causes of your sleep problems. Your GP can also refer you to a sleep clinic which can assess sleep problems through the use of equipment either at home or by staying overnight for an assessment.