Nearly everyone has difficulty getting to sleep from time to time, but for some people, this can be a regular ongoing problem. When this happens, not only do you feel tired but it can really interfere with your day-to-day functioning and affect your health. Learning how to manage sleep problems can greatly improve your quality of life.
Examples of common sleep problems
|Obstructive sleep apnoea (OSA)||
|Restless legs syndrome||
How do I know if I have a sleep problem?
If you often have trouble getting to sleep or if you often wake during the night, then you may not be getting enough sleep. Some of the tools or quizzes used to assess sleep are shown below.
|Tools and quizzes to assess your sleep|
You can fill these in at home and if the results indicate that you may have a sleep problem, print your results and discuss these with your family doctor.
Not getting enough sleep, or getting poor-quality sleep, increases the risk of high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity and diabetes. That means it’s important to take steps to get good quality sleep.
What can I do to improve my sleep?
If you are experiencing the effects of poor sleep, making a few changes to your daily routine and habits can make a big difference. Try these strategies to help you sleep better at night:
Set your body clock – go to bed and get up at the same time each day, including weekends.
Wind down at bedtime – have an hour of quiet time before bed: switch off your electronic device, read, have a bath or listen to music.
Avoid stimulants – within 2 to 3 hours of bedtime don’t: smoke, drink alcohol or caffeinated drinks, eat a heavy meal or do energetic exercise.
Make your bedroom suitable for sleep – keep it cool, dark and quiet and use it only for sleep and sex.
Reduce blue light exposure in the evening – it disrupts your body clock, causing poor sleep. So, if you use your phone or computer in the evening, switch it to night-time setting or, better still, turn it off.
Get up if you can’t sleep – if you can’t sleep after 20 minutes or so, get up and do something boring until you feel tired, then try again. Don’t lie in bed getting frustrated.
Avoid naps – don’t sleep during the day but go to bed earlier in the evening.
Be active in the day – take regular daytime exercise and get outside early to help set your body clock for a good night’s sleep.
Use an app – try an app or online sleep programme.
See also Tips to improve your sleeping habits.
What treatment is available for sleep problems?
If these measures haven't helped, then visit your doctor to discuss whether you need other treatment. Your doctor will want to find out about what has been happening in your life, your pattern of sleep and whether you have any other health conditions. This is because the treatment for sleep problems varies depending on the underlying issue.
|Sleep disorder||Treatment options|
|Obstructive sleep apnoea||
|Restless legs syndrome||
A note on sleeping medicines
Sleeping tablets or medicines that encourage sleep are not used often because they have the potential to cause harm. Using sleeping tablets on an ongoing basis can lead to you develop a dependency on them, as well as an increased risk of falls, confusion, dementia and difficulties with driving.
Taking sleeping tablets for more than a few 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. You may need to stop taking them gradually over several weeks to months before stopping completely.
Read more about sleeping medicines (hypnotics).
Sleep Fresh Mind, NZ
Sleep disorders Medline Plus, National Institutes of Health, 2014
Why sleep matters Healthy Sleep – Division of Sleep Medicine at Harvard Medical School, USA
Common sleep problems (13 languages) Health Information Translations
10 medical reasons for feeling tired NHS Choices, UK, 2013
5 ways to stop snoring NHS Choices, UK, 2014
- Sleep deprivation and deficiency National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, US, 2016
- de Gage SB, Bégaud B, Bazin F. Benzodiazepine use and risk of dementia – prospective population-based study BMJ 2012;345:e6231
- Hypnotics New Zealand Formulary, 2018
- Prescribing hypnotic medicines – a focus on zopiclone BPAC, NZ, 2018
- Blue light Ministry of Health, NZ, 2019