Tips for better sleep
Like millions of other Americans, I often have trouble with insomnia — either I can't fall asleep, or I awake prematurely and am unable to get back to sleep. The following sleep tips, compiled from various sources, may prove helpful to some of my fellow insomniacs.
* Only use your bed for sleeping or having sex, not for reading, doing paperwork, watching TV, snacking, or making phone calls.
* If you've been lying in bed but are beginning to fear you're not going to drop off, try some of these techniques: Count sheep or count backwards from 100 (one of my favorites) to stop yourself from thinking about the problems of yesterday or tomorrow; breathe deeply for awhile; or visualize some peaceful place.
* If you can't get to sleep after lying in bed for 30 minutes or more, get up for awhile. What to do? Try reading something incredibly boring.
* Develop a bedtime routine.
* Keep regular bedtime hours.
* Before bedtime, avoid tobacco and caffeinated beverages (not just coffee, but other drinks like tea, cola, and Dr. Pepper).
* Avoid alcohol right before bedtime — a nightcap might get your mind fuzzy enough to put you to sleep, but such sleep may be interrupted by periods of awakening. By contrast, the stress-lowering effect of a drink with dinner may help to promote sleep later.
* Avoid naps (or falling asleep in front of boring TV programs, as I do).
* Try to get up at the same time every day rather than sleeping in on weekends.
* Exercise every day, but not shortly before bedtime since exercise gets the adrenaline going.
* If you use an illuminated clock for a wakeup alarm, place it where you can't keep looking at it to check the time.
* Buy a firm mattress and keep your bedroom well ventilated (a cool temperature works best for me).
* And you might also try some of these: a warm bath, warm milk, light bedtime snack, massage, or quiet music (which turns itself off automatically).
* Use earplugs for extreme quiet.
* If you have a painful joint or a headache, take a pain pill before bedtime (but be sure it doesn't contain caffeine).
* Avoid stimulating reading or television shows late at night.
If the insomnia stubbornly persists, check with your doctor to make sure some underlying health problem (such as depression, anxiety, hyperthyroidism, heart failure, or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) isn't keeping you awake. If all is well, you might ask for one of the several types of prescription sleeping pills that can be useful in the short term.
by Simeon Margolis, M.D., Ph.D.