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Sleep problems diagnosis and treatment

How do I know if I have a sleep problem?

Problems sleeping at night can make life difficult during the day and affect a person's health.

If someone has sleep problems lasting more than the occasional bad night's sleep, and it is affecting daily life, they should seek medical advice.

A doctor may suggest keeping a sleep diary to help track any causes of the bad sleep, such as food or drink, activities and other events during the day.

Sleep clinics

Sleep clinics may be recommended for sleep apnoea, narcolepsy, and heart-related sleep problems.

You may need to spend a night or two in a sleep laboratory, where your heart, brain, and breathing can be monitored as you sleep. By reviewing the results of your tests, a sleep specialist may be able to tell what, if anything, is wrong.

What are the treatments for sleep disorders?

Your doctor or sleep specialist will first try to work out why you're having trouble sleeping. Could it be related to stress or illness? Do you drink too much coffee or alcohol? Talk with your doctor about any physical or emotional problems you're having, all medications you take and your lifestyle, to help determine how to get better sleep.

Circadian rhythm disorders

Practitioners increasingly use bright-light treatment both for delayed sleep phase syndrome (slow to fall asleep at night and wake up in the morning) and for the less-common advanced sleep phase syndrome (you fall asleep and wake up too early). In particular, researchers are investigating its usefulness in treating sleep problems related to jet lag and shift work.

To learn more about bright-light treatment, consult a sleep disorders doctor who has expertise in the treatment of circadian rhythm disorders. Melatonin is also being investigated and used in the treatment of circadian rhythm disorders, though it's not a powerful, general sleeping aid and not as effective as bright-light treatment.

Insomnia

Once you and your doctor have eliminated any medical problems that may be causing your insomnia, you might try self-care methods. "Good sleep hygiene" refers to practices you can follow to help ensure adequate, quality sleep.

Good sleep hygiene:

  • Keep to a regular bedtime schedule. Try to get out of bed at the same time each morning, even if it's a weekend or holiday.
  • Avoid napping during the day.
  • Avoid stressful activities and vigorous exercise for at least four hours before going to bed. Exercise regularly, but earlier in the day.
  • Before going to bed, try relaxation techniques, such as deep breathing, yoga, or meditation.
  • Make sure your bedroom is dark, quiet, and cool. Use earplugs or eye shades if needed.
  • Leave the bedroom if you can't sleep. Go into another room and read, or do something relaxing and quiet.
  • Avoid substances that contain caffeine, such as coffee, tea, soft drinks, or diet pills.
  • Avoid alcohol and nicotine before bed.
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