This Story Will Put You to Sleep. We Hope.

Each night, millions of Americans can't get asleep or stay asleep.

Sleep expert Damien Stevens, MD, director of the sleep disorder center at The University of Kansas Health System, has dedicated his career to helping his patients get a better night's rest. 

"When patients come to us, it's our job to determine if there's an underlying cause or if they have a sleep disorder," he said. The most common issues affecting sleep include:

  • Stress
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Pain
  • Improper digestion
  • Family obligations
  • Neurological, gastrointestinal or pulmonary problems

While there are many common-sense tips, Dr. Stevens stresses nothing works for everyone. "Exercise during the day may work for some, not for others. Eliminating caffeine at night is the key for many, while others can drink it all day and night and remain unaffected. Avoiding electronic devices before bedtime is a good idea for some, but others use them as a way to wind down."

Overall, Dr. Stevens advises three essential elements to getting a night of solid sleep.

Establish a consistent schedule.

Keep your bedtime and wake time consistent throughout the week. "Shoot for a 30-minute window either way," he said. "Varying your schedule more than that can really mess with your system." Sleeping in or napping will also wreak havoc with your body's internal clock.

Get the amount of sleep you really need.

Many sleep studies suggest that everyone needs eight hours of sleep each night. But Dr. Stevens said these are general guidelines and, again, don't apply to everyone. "Take these studies with a grain of salt if you wake up rested after only six hours, and don't feel bad if you require nine hours to be in top form," he said. "Pay attention to your body and let it tell you how many hours of sleep it really needs. Accepting your body's own rhythm may help you rest better than ever."

Limit your time in bed to sleep only.

The time you spend in bed should be fairly equal to the amount of time you sleep – within 30 minutes or so. This helps you associate your bed with sleeping. "If you lie in your bed for hours without falling asleep, start going to bed later, aiming for the time you actually nod off," he said. "If you wake earlier than your alarm, you should get up and start your day." If you want to increase the amount of time you sleep, start changing your schedule in 30-minute increments, until you're finally sleeping the majority of the time you're in bed.

Many sleep issues result from learned behaviors or family habits. "We see a lot of patients who unintentionally sabotage their own sleep," said Dr. Stevens.

So how do you know when to see a sleep specialist?

"If a lack of sleep is causing you problems in your day-to-day functioning and if your symptoms are steady for up to two months, you should probably come in and get checked out," he said. "We can determine if there are neurological, gastrointestinal or pulmonary problems, since a seemingly unrelated health issue can affect your ability to sleep."

Request an appointment with a sleep specialist.