Sleep Problems: Diagnosis and Treatments Explained

You know you're not sleeping well, but you're not sure why.

First, your doctor will give you a checkup and talk with you about what's going on. She'll ask you questions such as:

  • What medical conditions do you have?
  • What medications are you taking?
  • How stressed are you feeling these days?
  • How much alcohol do you drink?
  • How much caffeine are you getting?

If you've already tried things like allowing enough time for sleep and making your bedroom a good place for rest, your doctor may suggest you go to a sleep lab for more tests. This may take a night or two.

At the sleep lab, you'll be hooked up to monitors that will track your heart, brain, movements, and breathing patterns as you sleep. A sleep specialist will review the results and tell you what they mean.


Your treatment will depend on what type of sleep problem you're having.


The first thing to try is changing your sleep habits. For instance:

  • Go to bed the same time each night and get up at the same time each morning.
  • Don't nap during the day.
  • Stop stressful chores or discussions long before you go to bed.
  • Relax before bedtime. Try deep breathing, prayer, gentle stretching, meditation, or journaling.
  • Keep your bedroom dark, quiet, and cool. Use earplugs or eye shades if needed.
  • Can't sleep? Go into another room and read, or do something relaxing and quiet.
  • Avoid caffeine.
  • Don't drink alcohol before bed.
  • Quit smoking.

Circadian Rhythm Disorders

These are like jet lag in that your body clock is "off." Your doctor may suggest bright light treatment.


Try these tips:

  • Sleep on your side.
  • Don't drink or smoke.
  • Avoid sleeping pills and other sedatives.
  • If you're overweight, work on weight loss.
  • Get medical treatment for any allergies or nasal blockages you may have.

Sleep Apnea

When you have sleep apnea, you briefly stop breathing several times a night. Losing extra weight may make it better. Also, avoid alcohol and sleeping pills.

Ask your doctor if you need a CPAP machine. (CPAP stands for continuous positive airway pressure.) With CPAP, you wear a mask while you sleep, and it raises the air pressure inside your throat. This keeps your airway more open, so you can sleep better. You'll need to go to a sleep lab to get a CPAP prescription and follow-up. Other PAP machines include the BiPAP for two levels of air pressure and the VPAP, which has varying levels of air pressure.