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Getting a Good Night’s Sleep

Sleep is essential to us as food, air, and water. Sleep needs vary from person to person. Some need only four hours per night but others seem to need 10 yet many of these people function well during the day.

Your need for sleep may decrease and your ability to go to sleep may improve when you are exercising regularly and doing things you enjoy and do easily. You may need more sleep and experience more sleeplessness if you are under more stress or as you become less active (e.g. move from an active to a sedentary job, return to the more sedentary role of student after an active summer).

Difficulty falling or staying asleep is a common problem. These woes – called insomnia – by doctors – have far-reaching effects: a negative impact on concentration, productivity and mood.

Fortunately, there are many things you can do to improve your sleep. The first step requires some detective work. You need to examine your diet, exercise patterns, sleeping environment, personal habits, lifestyle and current concerns. As you begin to see the connection, you can develop your own good sleep plan.

Sleep experts recommend the following suggestions to get a good night’s sleep:

  1. Follow a regular schedule of going to bed. Go to sleep and get up about the same time everyday, even on weekends. Most people get hungry at 7 a.m., noon, and 6 p.m. because they’ve eaten at those times for years. Going to bed at about the same time every night can make sleep as regular as hunger.
  2. Don’t take naps. When you feel sleepy, get up and do something. The objective here is to follow the law of nature, which is “the bed commands a tired body to sleep.” If you work daytime, the flow of oxygen to your brain helps you to be more alert.
  3. Do some exercise during the day but not late afternoon. The role of exercise cannot be stressed enough! The more active your body is during the day, the more likely it is that you’ll be able to go to sleep when it’s time for your body to be quiet. Traditionally, sleep experts have cautioned people to avoid strenuous exercise right before sleep and even up to three hours before bedtime. That’s because exercise has an alerting effect and raises our body temperature. You may want to try out stress-management techniques. By learning to be less stressed during the day, you also learn to sleep better at night.
  4. Do not eat or drink anything containing caffeine after midday. This includes coffee, tea, cola drinks and chocolate. These are stimulants, which make some people hyperactive. Substitute natural juices instead for these beverages.
  5. Develop a relaxing before-bed routine. If you are in bed and unable to sleep, many experts suggest getting out of bed, sit to read, write letters, or do some quiet activity like arrange your files. Do not restrict yourself to the suggested relaxing techniques. Relaxing means choosing the bedtime ritual that’s right for you. Does gentle music or reading lull you to sleep? Watching T. V.? Taking a warm bath? Cozy pajamas? Cuddling with your partner? Meditation or a prayer? Some people find that a gentle stretching routine for several minutes just before getting into bed helps induce sleep. Find what works for you and do it!
  6. Drink warm milk or eat foods rich in carbohydrates. Milk does really have a soothing effect on some people and may help produce sweet dreams. Trytophan, an amino acid, an ingredient found in certain foods – including milk and carbohydrates such as bread, pasta, and rice – has been found to induce sleep.
  7. Do not drink a large quantity of beer, wine, or liquor before you go to bed. These drinks may help you fall asleep, but they interfere with your staying asleep. When the sedative effects of alcohol wear off, you’re likely to wake up. Furthermore, alcohol may trigger or dangerously worsen the disorder sleep apnea.
  8. Make your bed conducive for sleeping. Sleep in the dark and in quiet. Some people sleep better in a clean and neat environment so they like to straighten their room just before going to bed. Get room-darkening window shades or blinds or wear sleep goggles. Change bed sheets every week to rid of bed bugs and dust. See if your bed mattress is comfortable to sleep in. Replace saggy pillows with brand new huggable ones.
  9. Restrict fluids intake. Drinking too much of any beverage can lead to more awakenings because of the need to urinate during the night. Another cause of sleep problems can be eating too much. A heavy meal close to bedtime may make your stomach feel less comfortable when you settle down for your night’s rest. At the same time, going to bed hungry can be just as disruptive to sleep as going to bed too full.
  10. Stop smoking. Smokers and nonsmokers alike may not be aware that nicotine, like caffeine, is a stimulant. Research suggests that nicotine is linked to difficulty falling asleep and problems waking up. Smokers may also experience more nightmares. Giving up smoking may cause more sleep problems at first, but the long-term effect on sleep and health is much better.
  11. Don’t worry about not sleeping. Are you trying too much? Psychologists say that anxiously watching the clock, focusing on how much time you have yet to sleep may actually cause insomnia. Try hiding your alarm clock and your watch before you go to bed. The more you worry about how tired you’ll be the next day, the harder it will be for you to sleep. Remember that human beings are flexible and can function well on little sleep.
  12. See your physician. If your sleep problem persists, there may be an underlying cause that can be successfully treated or controlled once properly diagnosed. Sleep Disorders Centers are staffed by physicians and other medical professionals who specialize in helping people with persistent sleeping problems. Consult your physician if these strategies don’t help.

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