Medical Q&As

Sleep disturbance - what do I do?

I have started over the past few months to wake up 2 or 3 times a night for about 10-20 minutes at a time. I also seem to sleep very lightly and appear to be dreaming a lot. I am absolutely exhausted the next day. I think that my problem might be related to stress. What should I do?

You are suffering from a significant sleep disorder and you have accumulated quite a degree of sleep deficit over the course of the past couple of months. I think that it would be appropriate for you to visit your GP and discuss your current difficulties. There are many causes of sleep disturbance with stress being one of the major causes. However, there are other causes and I donít want to pre-empt the discussion you need to have with your doctor by jumping to the conclusion that stress is the cause. In the meantime there are a number of measures that you could take to help yourself. Avoid drinking tea or coffee in the evening because both drinks contain stimulant chemicals that can keep you alert at the very time when you want tot be winding down. Also be careful about alcohol consumption because alcohol can disturb your sleep by altering the level of REM sleep (Rapid Eye Movement), which occurs during that phase of sleep when we are dreaming. Try to avoid napping during the day because this may subtract from the total amount of sleep that you will experience later that night. Try to maintain a regular routine of retiring at the same time each night and avoid trying to tire yourself out by reading in bed or staying up watching late night television. Such activities are often counterproductive and tend to keep you alert and prevent sleeping. Regular physical exercise can also help to induce a natural nightís sleep and simple relaxing pleasures such as a warm bath can also be helpful. If you are tossing and turning in the bed and cannot get back to sleep it is probably better to get out of bed and make yourself a warm drink other than tea or coffee before attempting to retire again.