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Recently, we asked our readers what was keeping them up. Turns out, it is a whole bunch of things, from insomnia, to late-night bathroom visits, to racing minds that won’t shut off. We collected your most pressing questions and put them to sleep experts, who recommend we all start making sleep a bigger priority in our busy lives.

I don’t usually have trouble falling asleep, but I wake up easily. Is there anything I can do to stay asleep?

“Don’t try to force back sleep,” says Charles Morin, professor of psychology at Laval University and director of its Center for Studies on Sleep Disorders. Instead, if you can’t fall back asleep within 20 minutes, get out of bed and do something relaxing, in the dark or with a dim light. “You can also try to go to bed later and arise a bit earlier in the morning to increase the homeostatic sleep pressure,” says Morin. “Do not nap during the day – that will increase your chance to stay asleep through the night. Avoid electronics before bedtime and keep all electronics out of reach and sight for the night.”

My 10-year-old goes to bed at a decent time but has very interrupted sleep. He finds it hard to stay awake during the day. What can I do to help him?

It is important for children to get enough sleep as well as good quality sleep, says Penny Corkum, a professor in the department of psychology and neuroscience at Dalhousie University and a pediatric sleep expert. A child that age needs nine to 11 hours of sleep, according to the National Sleep Foundation. “The fact that your child can fall asleep at bedtime tells me that he knows how to settle for sleep,” Corkum says. “I would look to see if there is anything in the environment that may be waking him up.” She adds that a dark, cool and comfortable sleeping environment is essential, as well as no disturbances, such a pet coming into the room.

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I am a bad sleeper. So were my parents. Now my daughter struggles to fall and stay asleep. Do genes affect how a person sleeps?

Corkum says genetics can influence sleep, which can make it harder to get a good night’s rest – “but it is still possible!” She recommends having a structured bedtime and wake time routine, which occurs consistently to “strengthen the signal for sleep.” Corkum and her team at Dalhousie are currently working on developing a suite of digital interventions that may help children rest easier at Stay tuned for programs for middle- and high-school age students, along with sleep strategies for adults.

I am 66 years old and have had trouble sleeping for years, as my mind seems to never shut down. What are your thoughts on cannabis as a sleep aid?

“Research on CBN remains in its infancy therefore I am always careful to answer these types of questions unless I have a face-to-face appointment with the patient,” says Jonathan Charest, a behavioural sleep medicine specialist at Calgary’s Centre for Sleep and Human Performance, adding that most patients who are successful with cannabinol (CBN) or cannabidiol (CBD) would highly benefit from relaxation during their evening, too. The effects of cannabis on sleep depend on many factors including the concentration of THC and CBD and the frequency of use.

I have the hardest time getting myself to bed at a reasonable hour. I usually go to bed at 1 a.m. or later. I have morning activities that mean I have to be out of bed by 8 a.m. or earlier. How can I get myself out of this rut?

“You already have a good window of seven hours sleep,” Charest says. “It is not perfect or ideal for someone who seems so active, however it is not a catastrophe.” Blue-blocking glasses during your evening alongside bright light as soon as you get up could be a strategy to help with circadian realignment, he says. And Morin has this advice: “You might also try light therapy in the morning to advance your usual sleep schedule. Try to gradually arise and go to bed a bit earlier every day until the desired sleep schedule is achieved.”

My sleep is interrupted by having to pee at night. I find getting up leaves me feeling sluggish in the morning. When do you recommend drinking liquids and how much is a good amount?

“Hyperactive bladder is definitely a challenge as we get older,” says Charest, adding that one or two wake ups a night is “absolutely normal and should be expected,” provided you can get back to sleep in a decent amount of time. He suggests drinking steadily throughout the day but stopping an hour to two before bed.

What is sleep apnea and what causes it?

Sleep apnea is a breathing disorder occurring during sleep, explains Morin. There are different types but the most common (obstructive sleep apnea) is caused by an obstruction of the upper airway. The main symptoms are loud snoring, repeated pauses in breathing during sleep, restless sleep and excessive daytime sleepiness. “Oftentimes, a person is totally unaware of this sleep disorder until a bed partner reports having witnessed the breathing pauses and being bothered by the loud snoring,” says Morin. The condition requires medical attention and usually a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) device “is very effective,” he says. You need to book an overnight sleep study to confirm a diagnosis.

A CPAP machine uses a hose connected to a mask or nosepiece to deliver a constant and steady air pressure to help you breathe while you sleep.

It seems all my friends have Fitbits and are keeping track of their REM sleep. Is there any way to know if people are sleeping better or worse because they’re fixated on the details (of REM sleep)?

“REM sleep is the type of sleep during which we dream,” Morin says. “Everyone has REM sleep, even though not everyone can remember their dreams upon awakening.” All sleep stages, including deep and REM sleep, are important to feeling rested in the morning, he says, adding that there are currently no wearable devices on the market that can monitor sleep stages. “Most wearables can provide very approximate estimates of time awake and time asleep but they cannot reliably monitor deep or REM sleep,” he says. Only a polysomnographic recording, which monitors brainwaves, can do that, according to Morin.

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I keep reading about sleep paralysis. What is it? Is it common? Is it dangerous?

Sleep paralysis can be an isolated symptom or occur in the context of another sleep disorder such as narcolepsy, Morin explains. “It usually takes place upon falling asleep or more commonly upon awakening and, as the name implies, there is a temporary paralysis while the person is fully awake and aware of his or her surroundings. This can be a scary experience but not a dangerous one, unless it is accompanied by other symptoms of narcolepsy.”

Why is it more difficult to get a good night’s sleep as we age?

“We do not run as fast and are not as flexible at 70 as we were at 25, so sleep also becomes more fragile as we grow older,” says Morin. Our brain is more susceptible to the effects of noise, discomfort, stimulants and many other factors that contribute to a good night’s sleep. With aging, our deep sleep is gradually replaced by a lighter and less refreshing sleep, due in part, to a reduced number of neurons responsible for sleep maintenance throughout the night, he says.

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