Sleep Disorders

Updated 23 July 2014

Managing sleep disorders

Sleep disorders are serious and can have long-term health consequences – and need to be professionally managed .

Sleep disorders are serious and can have long-term health consequences. This is not something you can manage at home on your own or only with the help of over-the-counter medications.

Several health professionals should ideally be involved in the treatment and management of a sleep disorder. This would include a neurologist, a psychiatrist, a pulmonologist, a sleep specialist and a dietician.

If you are unable to fall asleep, stay asleep, or if you constantly wake up early feeling unrefreshed, or if you suffer from excessive daytime sleepiness, you need to call in professional help.

If there is a specific cause for your poor sleep, such as relationship problems, or a noisy environment, your sleep problem is likely to resolve itself. However, if it does not, you could eventually develop a sleeping disorder. This is why it is so important to manage a sleep disruption properly.

Read: Sleep problems cost billions

What you need to do to manage a sleep disorder:

Get professional help. Find out exactly what the problem is, and whether you might have some underlying condition contributing to the sleep disorder. It might also be a side effect of a medication that you are taking.

Keep a sleep diary. This can help those who are treating you. Put together a sleep diary over a number of weeks.

Information recorded in this will include how many hours you sleep each night, how long you take to fall asleep, how often you wake up and for how long, how rested you feel in the morning and how sleepy you might feel during the day.

Some details you may have to ask you partner, such as whether you snore or gasp during sleep, or whether you jerk your limbs.

Read: Poor sleep a problem for middle-aged women

Follow the doctor’s orders. If you have been prescribed medication, or given specific instructions on managing your sleep disorder, you need to follow these to the letter. There is no point in getting professional help and then not following the instructions. It is important to make the treatment of the sleep disorder a priority in your life.

Spend a night in a sleep clinic. This is probably the best way to find out exactly why you are not sleeping properly. It might be uncomfortable or inconvenient, but you really do need to do this.

Be prepared to make lifestyle changes. Losing weight, quitting smoking, watching what you eat and when you eat it, getting enough exercise, learning to deal with anxiety: these are all lifestyle changes you need to be prepared to make if it will make it easier to manage a sleep disorder.

General tips on sleep hygiene

• Do not read or watch TV in bed if it leaves you feeling overstimulated.

• Wear comfortable clothing in bed.

• Both caffeine and nicotine can keep you awake, so avoid both before bedtime.

• Go to bed and get up at the same time every day.

• Don’t exercise during the two hours before you go to bed.

• Avoid taking naps during the day, as this could interfere with night-time sleeping.

• Get adequate exposure to bright light during the day.

Read: Sleep problems, teen suicide may be linked

• Make sure that your bedroom is quiet and warm and generally a soothing environment.

• Make sure that your bedroom is not too light. Street lights, or lights in passageways can make it difficult to sleep. Invest in curtains with a black lining if necessary.

• If you don’t fall asleep within 30 minutes of going to bed, get up and do something else. Tossing and turning can make you associate your bed with frustration.

• Alcohol can cause sleep disruptions, so try not to drink during the three hours before you go to bed.

Read more:

Symptoms of common sleep disorders
Treating sleep disorders
Diagnosing sleep disorders



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Sleep disorders expert

Dr Alison Bentley is a general practitioner who has consulted in sleep medicine and sleep disorders, in both adults and children of all ages, for almost 30 years. She also researches and publishes on a number of sleep-related topics both in formal research journals and lay publications including as editor of Sleep Matters, an educational newsletter on sleep disorders for doctors.

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