How to Fix the Most Common Sleep Problems

Can't get to sleep or sleeping too long? We asked a medical expert to help troubleshoot every kind of sleeping disorder.

We asked Dr. Ram Randhawa of UBC Hospital’s Leon Judah Blackmore Centre for Sleep Disorders for some advice on what to do about the most common problems.

You can’t get to sleep, stay asleep or wake up too early

These symptoms all fall under insomnia and are usually caused by stress, irregular sleep schedules or excessive use of electronic devices in the evening. Randhawa suggests three basic strategies:

  1. Lower your arousal level before bed with relaxation techniques or soothing rituals and routines, such as reading a book or listening to a meditation app.
  2. Re-establish the bedroom as a calm place to sleep by going to bed only when you’re sleepy, getting out of bed when you can’t sleep and using the bedroom exclusively for your calming routines, sleep and sex. Keep electronic devices out of the bedroom.
  3. Although it may sound counterintuitive, spend less time in bed. Go to bed later, which increases the pressure on your body to sleep, and then wake up earlier. You might get less sleep the first week, but Randhawa says this will settle down and the quality of your sleep will improve.

You don’t feel rested in the morning

If you’re sleeping between seven and nine hours a night and are still feeling exhausted and irritable, Randhawa says you should be assessed for sleep apnea at a sleep-disorders clinic. This condition, which affects more than five million Canadians, causes people to stop breathing and wake up for five to 15 seconds multiple times an hour through the night. Sleep apnea is often treated with a CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) machine, which helps you breathe by keeping the airway open while you sleep. Shedding excess weight and avoiding alcohol before bed may also be effective for mild sleep apnea.

You sleep too long

According to Randhawa, oversleeping can be a symptom of depression because the same brain systems involved in causing mood disorders can also disrupt your body’s regulation of sleep. And since regularly sleeping too much—more than nine hours a night—is linked to health problems such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes and obesity, he suggests oversleepers speak to their GP about getting a mental-health assessment.

Next, check out 9 sleep aids to help you get better rest tonight.

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Reader's Digest Canada
Originally Published in Reader's Digest Canada