Tim White

How to sleep like a baby
How to sleep like a baby

Sound slumber results in increased energy and productivity, improved heart and immune system health, a better mood, even a longer life. And hey, you just  feel so much better after a satisfying 8 hours of rest. But chances are, you’re  not getting it. “Sleep issues are epidemic among women today,” said Michael  Breus, clinical psychologist and author of The Sleep Doctor’s Diet  Plan.

Not surprisingly, women tend to get less sleep than men do overall, said Dr.  Marianne Legato, director of the Partnership for Gender-Specific Medicine at  Columbia University. Even if you don’t have children, levels of sleep-promoting  estrogen sink regularly during menstruation and then permanently in menopause.  And symptoms related to both—cramps, headaches, hot flashes, and night  sweats—also disrupt slumber.

But experts agree that these biological facts don’t mean that sleep  deprivation has to be your destiny. “Feeling tired should never be considered  normal,” said Breus. Yet there are no stock sleep solutions, either: Finding out  what works for you takes some trial and error, but it’s well worth it, said Dr.  Lawrence Epstein, chief medical officer of Sleep HealthCenters. “Sleep is a  basic biological necessity—just like eating—and it has an impact on every aspect  of your health and your life,” he notes.

Try these 20 ideas from Prevention Magazine to find the sleep formula that works best for you.

1. Set a sleep schedule—and stick with it

If you do only one thing to improve your sleep, this is it, said Breus: Go to  bed at the same time every night and get up at the same time every morning—even  on weekends. A regular sleep routine keeps your biological clock steady so you  rest better. Exposure to a regular pattern of light and dark helps, so stay in  sync by opening the blinds or going outside right after you wake up.

2. Keep a sleep diary

To help you understand how your habits affect your rest, track your sleep  every day for at least two weeks. Write down not only what’s obviously sleep  related—what time you go to bed, how long it takes you to fall asleep, how many  times you wake up during the night, how you feel in the morning—but also factors  like what you ate close to bedtime and what exercise you got. Comparing your  daily activities with your nightly sleep patterns can show you where you need to  make changes. For a sample sleep diary, go to sleepdoctor.com.

3. Stop smoking

Reason number 1,001: Nicotine is a stimulant, so it prevents you from falling  asleep. Plus, many smokers experience withdrawal pangs at night. Smokers are  four times more likely not to feel as well rested after a night’s sleep than  nonsmokers, studies show, and smoking exacerbates sleep apnea and other  breathing disorders, which can also stop you from getting a good night’s rest.  Don’t worry that quitting will keep you up nights too: That effect passes in  about 3 nights, said Dr. Lisa Shives, sleep expert and founder of Northshore  Sleep Medicine.

4. Review your medications

Beta-blockers (prescribed for high blood pressure) may cause insomnia; so can  SSRIs (a class of antidepressants that includes Prozac and Zoloft). And that’s  just the beginning. Write down every drug and supplement you take, and have your  doctor evaluate how they may be affecting your sleep.

5. Exercise, but not within four hours of bedtime

Working out—especially cardio—improves the length and quality of your sleep,  according to Shives. That said, 30 minutes of vigorous aerobic exercise keeps  your body temperature elevated for about 4 hours, inhibiting sleep. When your  body begins to cool down, however, it signals your brain to release  sleep-inducing melatonin, so then you’ll get drowsy.

6. Cut caffeine after 2 p.m.

That means coffee, tea, and cola. Caffeine is a stimulant that stays in your  system for about eight hours, so if you have a cappuccino after dinner, come  bedtime, it’ll either prevent your brain from entering deep sleep or stop you  from falling asleep altogether.

7. Write down your woes

“The number one sleep complaint I hear? ‘I can’t turn off my mind,'” said  Breus. To quiet that wakeful worrying, every night jot down your top  concerns—say, I have to call my insurer to dispute that denied claim, which will  take forever, and how can I spend all that time on the phone when work is so  busy? Then write down the steps you can take to solve the problem—I’m going to  look up the numbers before breakfast, refuse to stay on hold for more than three  minutes, and send e-mails tomorrow night if I can’t get through—or even I can’t  do anything about this tonight, so I’ll worry about it tomorrow. Once your  concerns are converted into some kind of action plan, you’ll rest easier.

8. Take time to wind down

“Sleep is not an on-off switch,” said Breus. “It’s more like slowly easing  your foot off the gas.” Give your body time to transition from your active day  to bedtime drowsiness by setting a timer for an hour before bed and divvying up  the time as follows:

First 20 minutes: Prep for tomorrow (pack your bag, set out your  clothes).

Next 20: Take care of personal hygiene (brush your teeth, moisturize your  face).

Last 20: Relax in bed, reading with a small, low-wattage book light or  practicing deep breathing.

9. Sip milk, not a martini

A few hours after drinking, alcohol levels in your blood start to drop, which  signals your body to wake up. It takes an average person about an hour to  metabolize one drink, so if you have two glasses of wine with dinner, finish  your last sip at least two hours before bed.

10. Snack on cheese and crackers

The ideal nighttime nosh combines carbohydrates and either calcium or a  protein that contains the amino acid tryptophan— studies show that both of these  combos boost serotonin, a naturally occurring brain chemical that helps you feel  calm. Enjoy your snack about an hour before bedtime so that the amino acids have  time to reach your brain.

Some good choices: • one piece of whole grain toast with a slice of  low-fat cheese or turkey • a banana with 1 teaspoon of peanut butter • whole grain cereal and fat-free milk • fruit and low-fat yogurt
11.  Listen to a bedtime story Load a familiar audiobook on your iPod—one that  you know well, so it doesn’t engage you but distracts your attention until you  drift off to sleep, suggested Shives. Relaxing music works well, too.

12. Stay cool…

Experts usually recommend setting your bedroom thermostat between 65 degrees  and 75 degrees—a good guideline, but pay attention to how you actually feel  under the covers. Slipping between cool sheets helps trigger a drop in your body  temperature. That shift signals the body to produce melatonin, which induces  sleep. That’s why it’s also a good idea to take a warm bath or hot shower before  going to bed: Both temporarily raise your body temperature, after which it  gradually lowers in the cooler air, cueing your body to feel sleepy. But for  optimal rest, once you’ve settled in to bed, you shouldn’t feel cold or hot—but  just right.

13. …especially if you’re menopausal

During menopause, 75 percent of women suffer from hot flashes, and just over  20 percent have night sweats or hot flashes that trouble their sleep. Consider  turning on a fan or the AC to cool and circulate the air. Just go low gradually:  Your body loses some ability to regulate its temperature during rapid eye  movement (REM) sleep, so overchilling your environment—down to 60 degrees, for  instance—will backfire.

14. Spray a sleep-inducing scent

Certain smells, such as lavender, chamomile, and ylang-ylang, activate the  alpha wave activity in the back of your brain, which leads to relaxation and  helps you sleep more soundly. Mix a few drops of essential oil and water in a  spray bottle and give your pillowcase a spritz.

15. Turn on the white noise

Sound machines designed to help you sleep produce a low-level soothing noise.  These can help you tune out barking dogs, the TV downstairs, or any other  disturbances so you can fall asleep and stay asleep.

16. Eliminate sneaky light sources

“Light is a powerful signal to your brain to be awake,” explained Shives.  Even the glow from your laptop, iPad, smart phone, or any other electronics on  your nightstand may pass through your closed eyelids and retinas into your  hypothalamus—the part of your brain that controls sleep. This delays your  brain’s release of the sleep-promoting hormone melatonin. Thus, the darker your  room is, the more soundly you’ll sleep.

17. Consider kicking out furry bedmates

Cats can be active in the late-night and early morning hours, and dogs may  scratch, sniff, and snore you awake. More than half of people who sleep with  their pets say the animals disturb their slumber, according to a survey from the  Mayo Clinic Sleep Disorders Center. “But if your pet is a good, sound sleeper  and snuggling up with him is comforting and soothing, it’s fine to let him stay  put,” advised Shives.

18. Check your pillow position

The perfect prop for your head will keep your spine and neck in a straight  line to avoid tension or cramps that can prevent you from falling asleep. Ask  your spouse to check the alignment of your head and neck when you’re in your  starting sleep position. If your neck is flexed back or raised, get a pillow  that lets you sleep in a better-aligned position. And if you’re a stomach  sleeper, consider using either no pillow or a very flat one to help keep your  neck and spine straight.

19. Breathe deeply

This technique helps reduce your heart rate and blood pressure, releases  endorphins, and relaxes your body, priming you for sleep. Inhale for five  seconds, pause for three, then exhale to a count of five. Start with eight  repetitions; gradually increase to 15. To see if you’re doing it right, Breus  said to buy a bottle of children’s bubbles, breathe in through your belly, and  blow through the wand. The smooth and steady breath that you use to blow a  bubble successfully should be what you strive for when you’re trying to get to  sleep.

20. Stay put if you wake up

“The textbook advice is that if you can’t fall back asleep in fifteen  minutes, get out of bed,” said Shives. “But I ask my patients, ‘How do you feel  in bed?’ If they’re not fretting or anxious, I tell them to stay there, in the  dark, and do some deep breathing or visualization.” But if lying in bed pushes  your stress buttons, get up and do something quiet and relaxing (in dim light),  such as gentle yoga or massaging your feet until you feel sleepy again.


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