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Sleep Health-Diagnosing Sleep Problems with Several Simple Steps

Updated on January 19, 2013

Understanding Sleep

Sleep used to be thought of as a simple passive state, however it is now known that sleep is a dynamic process, and our brains are quite active during sleep. Studies have repeatedly shown that quality sleep is indeed necessary for survival. Sleep affects our physical and mental health, and is essential for the normal functioning of all the systems of our body, perhaps most importantly, the immune system. Neurotransmitters control whether one is asleep or awake by acting on nerve cells in different parts of the brain. Neurons in the brain-stem actively cause sleep by inhibiting other parts of the brain that keep a person awake.

I don't think a day goes by that I don't hear someone complain about their sleep, or lack of it, the preceding night. According to the National Commission on Sleep Disorders Research, close to 40 million Americans suffer from long-term sleep disorders and another 20-30 million experience occasional sleep problems. Whether it's a major sleep disorder or just an isolated stressful night one in awhile, there are numerous disadvantages to missing your straight eight. Not only is it incredibly frustrating to lie awake all night worrying about an unfinished project at work or your teenage daughter's new boyfriend, when sleep problems get in the way of your daily routine and hamper your ability to function, you may be suffering from more than just a sleepless night or two, you may be grappling with a bonifide sleep disorder.

What Helps you Sleep?


Several Simple Steps - Be Aware of your Symptoms

So, is it just a passing annoyance, a more serious sleep disorder, or something inbetween? Sometimes, just becoming more aware of your daily habits and symptoms can give you an idea of what you are dealing with:

  • Are you overly irritable during the day?
  • Are you tired, dosing off while stting still, reading, during lectures or movies?
  • Do you have difficulty concentrating?
  • Do you need that Starbucks to get through the morning ...and afternoon?
  • Do you react slowly
  • Do you fall asleep while driving?
  • Are you told that you look exhausted?
  • Do you feel the need to nap daily?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, you may be experiencing some type of a sleep disorder. You can of course, consult your physician, especially if your sleep symtoms accompany health concerns however, you can also do some amateur experimentation by making a few relatively minor adjustments to your lifestyle, possibly solving the sleepless saga without going the sleep study route! (more about that in a later hub). Some slumber deprived sleep detectives keep a sleep diary, (click to print out the Sleep Foundation's version) similar to the sample chart below, with the hope that a pattern of some sort emerges, thus allowing one to make the necessary changes, solving the problem or at least identifying the probable cause.

Sleep Diary

What did you do, When, Total Time
What did you drink, When, How Much
 Happiness, Sadness, Stress, Anxiety
Food & Drink 
What , When: Dinner, Snacks?
Medications & Sleep Aids
When, What, How Much
Bedtime Routine
Medication, Relaxation, How Long?
When, Where, How Long?
Notes, etc.
Daytime Activities & Pre-Sleep Ritual (Fill in each night before going to bed)
Star Light Star Bright Whatever lets me sleep tonight!
Star Light Star Bright Whatever lets me sleep tonight! | Source

Coping with Sleep Problems

During the Day 
At Night
Consume Little or No Caffeine 
Use Bedroom for Sleep or Sex Only 
Avoid Alcohol or Nicotine 
Don't Drink or Eat too Close to Bedtime 
Excercise-Not within 3 Hours of Bed 
Establish Regular  Bedtime & Routine
Avoid Naps
Establish Regular Wakeup Time
Practice Yoga/Meditation-Reducing Stress
Create Dark, Sleep-Inducing Environment
Keep Sleep Diary 
Minimize Noise, Add White Noise Machine?


Insomnia (Latin for no sleep) is the inability to get the sleep that you need to wake up feeling rested. Insomnia is the most common sleep complaint and can last for a few nights or for a few years. Although it can sometimes be considered to be a sleep disorder, insomnia is usually a symptom of some other disease or condition. The National Sleep Foundation reports that one half of all insomnia cases are stress related. Left untreated, insomnia can lead to more serious problems such as poorer overall health, depression, anxiety and increased work absenteeism.

Because of this, it is important to make an effort early to determine the cause of your sleepless nights! There are a number of approaches, as noted above, the first would be to document your symptoms by using a sleep diary or journal so you can increase your understanding of what may be contributing to your lack of slumber. If there don't seem to be any health related causes, most likely a revision in your day or night time behavior as shown in the chart to the right, "Coping with Sleep Problems", could have a positive impact so that further treatment may not become necessary. If it does however, the sleep diary (click to print out the Sleep Foundation's Sleep Diary for your own use) will be a helpful tool that you can share with your Doctor so they will be able to accurately diagnose the issue and recommend a treatment plan.

Sleep Secrets

What Helps you Sleep?

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    • profile image

      Sebastian 3 years ago

      Bev,I am sorry to tell you that your 4'6 flat bed-spring has little or no mtanoery value or a market place. They were an inexpensive widely sold type of spring popular between the two great wars and for a few years into the fifties. They are not more than a metal hammock with no support in the middle, but they do last forever, and maybe, just maybe, provide a less hospitable home to vermin than an upholstered box spring.Marshall Coyle

    • Chatkath profile image

      Kathy 6 years ago from California

      Thanks R. - Yes, I think this may be helpful to anyone suffering from insomnia - worth a look! Thank you for sharing!

    • RTalloni profile image

      RTalloni 6 years ago from the short journey

      Thanks for alerting me to your sleep hubs so I can link them. There can be more than one cause to an individual's difficulties with getting proper rest.

    • Chatkath profile image

      Kathy 6 years ago from California

      Thanks Dovay-I am glad you stopped in even if you don't have sleeping problems. No doubt, is a sponsored link and I am glad that you recognized it for what it is, definitely not magical but a paid ad. Do you know if it was adsense?

    • Dovay Lee profile image

      Dovay Lee 6 years ago from China

      In fact, i have never suffered insomnia and every night I can have a sound sleep. I still read: the Sleeping disorder

      Fall asleep fast with my 3 easy techniques. Start tonight! which is the ad on your hub and I doubt whether it is so magic

    • Chatkath profile image

      Kathy 6 years ago from California

      Hi ewd76-

      From what I learned, everyone is so different it is hard to say, but if it is a "regular" (as you mention) part of your daily routine, makes you feel more rested and not so close to your bed time that it interferes with your sleep than go for it. Thank you for commenting!

    • ewd76 profile image

      ewd76 6 years ago from Hanover, VA

      This may or not have been mentioned later, but don't they say that generally speaking, a regular nap in the afternoon is a good ting?

    • Chatkath profile image

      Kathy 7 years ago from California

      I know how you feel Puppyluv - it can affect the entire next day if you don't get the deep sleep you need. Good luck to you, it sure helps to be rested!!

    • Puppyluv profile image

      Serena Zehlius 7 years ago from Hanover, PA

      Great hub! I love the chart and intend to use it! I wake up constantly all night long. I don't have trouble falling asleep (most of the time), but I can't stay asleep. I've never gone to bed and slept straight through until morning. I be that would feel great!

    • Chatkath profile image

      Kathy 7 years ago from California

      Thank you for visiting Katiem2 - It really is amazing how many things affect our health and the way we feel - I definately started paying more attention to it as I became older, got to have that sleep- Or else ;)

    • katiem2 profile image

      katiem2 7 years ago from I'm outta here

      SO many people suffer from sleep disorders, lack of sleep and loss of sleep. It's such a relief to learn there are helpful options to get a good nights rest. The importance of a good quality sleep is vital to life. Thanks for your helpful tips and facts. :) Katie

    • Chatkath profile image

      Kathy 7 years ago from California

      Thank you Colin as always it's a pleasure to read your wise and wonderful comments, sleep well my friend!

    • epigramman profile image

      epigramman 7 years ago

      ...well it's true and just a fact of nature - your fascinating hubs always keep me awake and alert and smart and aware .....and 'sleep' is just an afterthought until I get to dream of how well you can put a hub together - and this one is certainly no exception. As I've gotten older I find that sleep is somewhat of a drug for me and I do a lot of dreaming which they say is REM sleep (rapid eye movement or deep sleep) - and of course the other intervention of my sleep habits is my five hour cat - Mister Gabriel who is a feline alarm clock as he makes sure that I get up .......

    • Chatkath profile image

      Kathy 7 years ago from California

      Thanks RPaulis and Susan. Not being able to sleep is the worst, usually we can solve ourselves but it can be sooo frustrating in the meantime!

    • Just Ask Susan profile image

      Susan Zutautas 7 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      Great hub chatkath! I am going to have my 18 year old son read this as he is always complaining about not being able to get to sleep at night. I think I will also do up one of the sleep diaries as you have shown here. Thanks so much for writing this!

    • rpalulis profile image

      rpalulis 7 years ago from NY

      I suffered from insomnia for a very long time, this was happening during one of the most stressful times in my life. I know all too well what its like to go several nights in a row just lying there wishing I could fall asleep. Today I sleep just fine. I have noticed that what I eat and how close I eat to bedtime does play a significant factor to how well I sleep. I can not have ice cream or any sugary snack before going to bed. Keeps me up all night long.

      Excellent hub, very accurate well researched and offers sound advice. Nice work!