Nearly everyone has difficulty getting to sleep from time to time, but when this is ongoing, it can really interfere with day to day functioning and affect your health.
Sleep is one of those essential activities we simply have to do. In fact, we spend nearly one-third of our life sleeping, however for some people, getting enough sleep is a major issue.
As we get older our normal sleep patterns change. Most people (but not all) find they wake earlier than they did when younger and get tired earlier in the evening. This can lead to unnecessary concerns, which may result in seeking help to sleep, usually in the form of taking sleeping tablets.
Unfortunately, using sleeping tablets on a long-term basis produces problems, such as dependency, increased risk of falls, confusion and difficulties with driving. Research has shown that taking sleeping tablets for more than 10 nights in a row can make sleeping difficulties worse.
If you're taking sleeping tablets on a regular basis, ask your doctor about ways to help you stop taking them. It may be necessary to stop taking them gradually, taking several weeks to months to stop completely.
How do I know if I have a sleep problem?
If you often have trouble getting to sleep or waking during the night, then you may not be getting enough sleep. Some of the tools or quizzes used to assess sleep are shown below.
- Sleep Profile quiz - BBC (5-10mins to fill in online)
- Epworth Sleepiness Scale NZ Respiratory & Sleep Institute
- National Sleep Foundation Sleepiness test or printable version - National Sleep Foundation, 2014
- Sleep Apnoea Risk - University of Maryland Medical Center (UMMC), 2015
If you or a loved one has problems sleeping, the first step is to look at the following healthy sleep tips and work on any that are relevant for you:
- Avoid caffeine, nicotine and alcohol before bedtime.
- Avoid heavy meals within two hours of bedtime.
- Avoid energetic exercise within three hours of bedtime.
- Develop a bedtime ritual so that your body knows you are getting ready to go to sleep.
- Reduce extreme light, temperature, and noise in your bedroom.
- Include an hour of quiet time before bed such as reading, watching TV or listening to music.
- Keep your sleep regular – same bedtime and same rise time.
- Aim for 8 hours of sleep each night.
- Avoid reading, watching TV or working in bed. Bedrooms are ONLY for sleep and intimacy.
- If you can’t sleep after 20 minutes, get up and do something boring until you feel tired, then try again.
(Adapted from the Healthy Sleep Hygiene factsheet from Respiratory team, Auckland DHB)
For more ideas, view the rest of the sleep section or visit the following websites:
- Tips for getting a good night's sleep Here to Help Canada, 2011
- 10 tips to beat insomnia NHS Choices 2014
- Children - Sleep for Kids Fun website with games, puzzles and stories to help children with sleep problems – National Sleep Foundation (NSF), Sleep For Kids.
Online programmes & apps
- A popular online programme is now available via a UK website.
- Evidence-based programme, based on cognitive behaviour therapy.
- Cost approximately $10/week – 6 week course.
- Includes support, wide range of tools, evidence-based approach.
- Helped people with many years of poor sleep.
- Pill free!
- Visit the website or read the research/evidence
If these measures haven't helped, then visit your doctor to discuss if other treatments are needed. Firstly they will want to find out more about what has been happening, your pattern of sleep and other health conditions as the treatment for sleep problems varies depending on the underlying issue. There are a range of sleep disorders to consider including:
Sleep Disorders Medline Plus, National Institutes of Health, 2014
Why Sleep Matters Healthy Sleep – Division of Sleep Medicine at Harvard Medical School
Common sleep problems (13 languages) Health Information Translations
10 medical reasons for feeling tired NHS Choices, 2013
5 ways to stop snoring NHS Choices 2014