Understanding Sleep Problems -- Diagnosis and Treatment
How Do I Know if I Have a Sleep Problem?
Your doctor may suggest that you go to a sleep clinic for diagnosis of your sleep problem. Sleep clinics are especially useful for diagnosing sleep apnea, narcolepsy, periodic limb movement disorders, and heart- or lung-related sleep problems. You may need to spend a night or two in a sleep lab, where your heart, brain, movements, and breathing patterns can be monitored as you sleep. Some sleep studies can also be done at home. 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 figure 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, although it is not as effective as bright-light treatment.
Once you and your doctor have ruled out any medical problems that may be causing 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:
- Stick 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 2 hours before going to bed. Do 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.
If your snoring is light, try these self-care techniques:
- Sleep on your side.
- Avoid alcohol, and don't smoke.
- Avoid sleeping pills and other sedatives.
- Lose any excess weight.