While many people blame sleeping problems on worrying or stress, there are often physical ailments at the root cause.

Common Sleep Disorders

While many people blame sleeping problems on worrying or stress, there are often physical ailments at the root cause.

A person with sleep apnea regularly has pauses in breathing for 10 seconds or longer (an occasional stop in breathing is normal). Apnea episodes can happen from as few as five times per hour to over 50 times an hour. People who have sleep apnea may be at greater risk for developing high blood pressure, depression, irregular heart rhythms, heart disease and stroke.

The most common treatment for moderate to severe sleep apnea is the use of CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) equipment during sleep. CPAP devices use small masks and bedside machines that regulate air flow to help keep your airway from closing during sleep.

People with narcolepsy suffer from uncontrollable sleepiness, very vivid daytime dreams, "sleep paralysis," and brief loss of muscle control that may cause falling.

Up to 10 percent of the population may have regular, repeated and uncontrollable leg jerks as they sleep. Periodic limb movement disorder and restless leg syndrome result in arousals and/or disturbances in sleep. Medical treatment is usually effective.

Common Symptoms of Sleep Disorders

Up to 80 percent of the individuals who fall asleep during the day have a treatable medical problem such as sleep apnea, narcolepsy or periodic limb movement disorder.

If you are one of the 35 million Americans who report poor sleep every night or most nights, there is help. About 50 percent of the individuals who report difficulty falling or staying asleep have physical causes. Medical consultation can help improve sleep in most of the other 50 percent as well.

Snoring can cause poor sleep (for the snorer and his or her family members) and may be the first indication of sleep apnea.

Healthy Sleep Tips

  • Set a regular bedtime and an awakening time, and stick to it as much as possible.
  • Avoid napping during the day.
  • Avoid alcohol 4-6 hours before bedtime.
  • Avoid caffeine 4-6 hours before bedtime.
  • Avoid heavy, spicy or sugary foods 4-6 hours before bedtime.
  • Exercise regularly, but not less than two hours before bed.
  • Use comfortable bedding.
  • Find a comfortable temperature setting for sleeping and keep the room well-ventilated.
  • Block out all distracting noise, and eliminate as much light as possible.
  • Use the bed for sleeping and sexual activity only.
  • Try a light snack before bed. Warm milk and foods high in the amino acid tryptophan, such as bananas, may help you to sleep.
  • Practice relaxation techniques before bed. Relaxation techniques such as yoga, deep breathing and others may help relieve anxiety and reduce muscle tension.
  • Don’t take your worries to bed. Leave your worries about job, school, daily life, etc., behind when you go to bed. Some people find it useful to assign a "worry period" during the evening or late afternoon to deal with these issues.
  • Establish a pre-sleep ritual. Pre-sleep rituals, such as a warm bath or a few minutes of reading, can help you sleep.
  • Get into your favorite sleeping position. If you don’t fall asleep within 15–30 minutes, get up, go into another room, and read until sleepy.

Most people wake up a few times a night for various reasons. If you find that you get up in the middle of the night and cannot get back to sleep within 15–20 minutes, then do not remain in the bed "trying hard" to sleep. Get out of bed. Leave the bedroom. Read, have a light snack, do some quiet activity, or take a bath. You will generally find that you can get back to sleep about 20 minutes later.

Do not perform challenging or engaging activities such as office work or housework. Do not watch television or use the computer.

Many people fall asleep with the television on in their room. Watching television before bedtime is often a bad idea. Television is a very engaging medium that tends to keep people up. We generally recommend that the television not be in the bedroom. At the appropriate bedtime, the TV should be turned off. The computer should be turned off also within an hour before bedtime.