Do you know when that late afternoon cup of coffee is for a little pick me up and when it's necessary because of a sleep disorder? (photo credit:

Do you know when that late afternoon cup of coffee is for a little pick me up and when it’s necessary because of a sleep disorder? (photo credit:

Having trouble sleeping at night?  Wondering what has you tossing and turning?  Before you decide it is just stress or a bad enchilada dinner, there are some questions you need to ask yourself to make sure it is really just a sleepless night and not a sleep disorder.

Too often we ignore the signs and symptoms our body is sending us about the quality and quantity of sleep we are getting.  It may be that we are stressed and know we need more sleep but don’t feel like we have the time.  It may be that we think everyone is sleep deprived and staying up late/getting up early is the new normal.  But the bottom line is that not getting the sleep your body needs on a regular basis – no matter the reason – has a serious impact on your short and long term health.  So, before you shrug your shoulders at another sleepless night, take a minute or two and consider if there may be more to your sleep struggles.

Sleep disorders are serious business. They can increase your risk of developing debilitating and even deadly diseases like diabetes, heart disease, and cancer.  They can impair your ability to learn, drive, remember, interact, and work.  They can affect your interpersonal relationships and even cause problems with your mental health.  This is why it is so important to take sleep and the signs that you might have a sleep disorder seriously.

In order to determine if you need to be tested for a sleep disorder, you need to get a clear picture of how often you are struggling with sleep and how your sleep habits are impacting you.  Start with a sleep diary.  This is a journal you keep for at least a couple of weeks that tracks data about your sleep habits.  You will want to track when you go to bed, when you wake up, how much sleep you got, how many times you woke up during the night, and how you felt the next day.  Keeping track of things like what you ate and drank, meds you took, and what kind of exercise you got can also help clarify the picture of how you are sleeping and what may be stopping you from getting the sleep you need.

Once you have a couple weeks worth of sleep tracking completed, look across the weeks for patterns.  Do you struggle to get to sleep on days you don’t exercise?  Are you having a cup of coffee on your way home from work that may be keeping you up?  Look for things that may be keeping you from getting the sleep you need and make changes to address those concerns.   Make sure you keep tracking what happens so that you can see if the changes you are making are impacting your overall sleep.

If you can’t find anything in your sleep diary data to change or if you make changes but your sleep doesn’t seem to be improving, set up an appointment to talk to your doctor about sleep testing.  Sleep may not seem important enough to warrant a doctor’s appointment on its own.  But if you have made changes aimed at improving your sleep or can’t think of any changes to make, you need to get help so you can get the sleep you need.  Remember, it is not normal to feel tired all day or to exist on a few hours sleep a night.