Sleep Problems

There are several sleep problems or disorders that affect the quality and quantity of sleep and may require treatment before you can get back on track with restful, restorative sleep.

  • Insomnia includes difficulty falling asleep, waking from sleep, or diminished quality of sleep. While short bouts of insomnia are quite common, if insomnia persists for 2 to 3 weeks, you need to see a professional or physician about treatment options. Possible causes include stress, depression, light, noise, heat, cold, an uncomfortable mattress, movement of a spouse, a painful condition, medical problems, and alcohol or drug dependency.

  • Sleep apnea interferes with normal breathing during sleep but not while awake. During sleep, breathing stops for 10 seconds or more, and then the sufferer snorts and gasps for air and returns to sleep. These interruptions are repeated throughout the night. Sleep apnea may result in a number of various health problems and requires treatment. See your doctor if you suspect you have sleep apnea.

  • Narcolepsy is sleep that occurs at inappropriate times. The person experiences an overwhelming urge to sleep, especially under monotonous, boring conditions. The person sleeps for 2 to 5 minutes and usually wakes feeling refreshed. The narcoleptic person may also occasionally wilt, fall to the ground, and lie there conscious for a few seconds to several minutes. Such episodes are triggered by strong emotion or sudden physical effort. Medications can help some narcoleptics.

  • Sleepwalking is usually not a serious concern, though it can lead to physical injury due to moving about in a semi-conscious state. Sleepwalking is usually outgrown by late adolescence.
  • Restless-legs syndrome is experienced as an uncomfortable, aching sensation in the calves accompanied by an irresistible urge to move the legs. It is felt while awake but is worse at bedtime and often interferes with falling asleep. Walking and stretching often help. More severe cases often benefit from medication.

  • In phase-delay syndrome, the person cannot seem to fall asleep until late at night; so getting up in the morning at the desired time is not easy (and perhaps dangerous to the roommate whom you asked to wake you in time to get to class). Frequent switches in bedtimes and wake up times often lead to this problem, so as you might guess, college students and shift workers are most likely to experience this problem.

Suggestions for Improving Sleep

  1. Make sleep a priority. Experiment with keeping a regular sleep schedule for a few weeks. If it does not work for you, you can always go back to the old way of doing things.

  2. Go to bed and get up at the same times, even on the weekends. If you do stay up late on Friday or Saturday night, at least get to sleep by 1 a.m., rather than staying up an extra three hours watching a video or talking. Consider starting dates earlier, so you can get to sleep a little earlier.

  3. Ask roommates who stay up late to help you by keeping the volume down on the stereo or the conversation. If approached in the right spirit, most roommates will respond favorably. Who knows? They may even follow your good example and get to bed a little earlier. Earplugs or mediation with the apartment manager may be necessary in some cases.

  4. If you do tend to stay up late, avoid taking early morning classes so that you can get about eight hours of sleep each night. If you just can't get your eight hours at night, take a 45-minute nap in the afternoon.

  5. If you study in the evening, give yourself an hour of downtime before bedtime to help you unwind. Remember that while schoolwork is important, your health is also important. Lack of sleep compromises your immune system and may lead to the flu or colds. A sleep-deprived you will also take much longer to read a chapter than a well rested you.

  6. Videotape your favorite late TV shows, and watch them the next day.

  7. Caffeine is a stimulant. Do not consume caffeine within 4 to 6 hours of bedtime. Energy drinks are likewise stimulants and should be avoided around bedtime.

  8. Get regular exercise, but not within 2-3 hours of bedtime. It takes time for your body to prepare for sleep.

  9. Keep your room dark and cool.

  10. Avoid heavy or spicy meals around bedtime.

  11. If you lie down to sleep and your mind starts to think about your concerns or schedule, do the following: a) Keep a planner to avoid juggling your schedule in your head. b) Schedule 15 minutes each day to plan and problem solve. The scheduled time should be at least 1 hour before bedtime. c) Focus and refocus as needed on a pleasant and relaxing memory while drifting off to sleep.

  12. Finally, if you do not fall asleep within about half an hour or so (DO NOT watch the clock), get up and do something quiet like reading until you feel drowsy. Then, return to bed.