Dr. Hawa imageDo you have trouble sleeping? Are the sheep you're counting keeping you awake instead of putting you to sleep? If you're reading this and nodding in agreement, we may have the answers you've been looking for! To discuss what you can do to overcome sleep related issues UHNews sat down with Dr. Raed Hawa. As a Sleep Specialist, Dr. Hawa is committed to identifying the root of his patients' sleep problems and recommending their best course of action. Here, Dr. Hawa opens up the secret bedtime vault — revealing how you too can enjoy a good night sleep.


I have difficulty sleeping at night. What do you recommend I do to fall asleep?
Due to a multitude of variables, each individual is examined independently. For example, if a patient is suffering from depressive or anxiety symptoms, they need to be given special attention. It is also important to exclude other sleep related pathology such as sleep apnea (pauses in breathing during sleep), restless legs, and leg kicking during the night.

In general I would suggest the following:

  1. Go to bed only if you are feeling sleepy
  2. Use your bed only for sleep and rest
  3. If you wake up and can't fall asleep for another 15 minutes get out of bed, go to another room, and do not go back until you are feeling sleepy again
  4. Wake up at the same time — irrespective of how many hours you slept
  5. Do not nap during the day.


Is it true that reading a book or watching TV before lying down can prevent you from falling asleep?
I don't suggest reading books or watching TV in bed as these activities can keep your mind active when trying to fall asleep. While reading a book away from the bed can help you relax and wind down, watching TV can be quite stimulating — possibly due to the TV rays or the program.

However, keep in mind that everyone is different, depending on the situation and type of material, reading books and watching TV can be relaxing or stimulating.


I use sleep medications occasionally. Are there any side effects?
The first question is why do you need a sleeping pill? Are you anxious? Are you worried about something? It also depends on what you mean by sleeping pill. There is only one sleeping pill that is prescribed as a sleeping pill, while all other pills are prescribed for their sedative side effects (also containing other effects besides sedating).

In general, all pills, whether prescribed or over-the-counter, have side effects. Having said that, if you take a sleeping pill once every week or two, I do not think it would be problematic.


Are there any home remedies that help with sleep problems?
To combat sleep problems at home it is important to try and decrease or even eliminate the intake of caffeine (a stimulant) and alcohol (a substance that is often disruptive towards sleep pattern). I encourage mild to moderate exercise, at least four to five hours before bed time which allows the body to relax and release tension.

Also, avoiding heavy meals before bed can help. Nonetheless, no controlled trials prove or disprove if home remedies work. For example, while there are reports that chamomile (a daisylike plant commonly attributed as a sleeping aid) has a tranquilizing effect on mice, it does not mean the effects are applicable to humans. It is also very important that you maintain caution when using any sleep remedies or over-the-counter pills, especially if you are taking medications or have a medical problem.


Does counting sheep work?
You can try counting sheep; however, in terms of evidence-based medicine there is no such data that supports this. In fact, there is evidence that the counting sheep method might be counterproductive and results in more difficulty falling asleep. This is because individuals end up placing too much cognitive attention on the act of counting sheep (some individuals get concerned about the sheep's imagined size or colour) which prevents them from relaxing — the original purpose of counting sheep. This in turn creates a heightened emotional response which stimulates the individual and further increases their challenge of falling asleep.

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