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No More Sleepless Nights | Fall 2005 Out Here Magazine

Practical tips for a good night's rest

By Bethanne Black

Sleep is vital to our health and well being, yet millions of us cut ourselves short on the amount that we get. Surveys conducted by the National Sleep Foundation reveal that 60 percent of adults report having sleep problems a few nights a week or more.

"As a nation, we are the sleepiest we've ever been," says Dr. Barbara Phillips, director of the National Sleep Foundation. "Yet sleep is kind of like Rodney Dangerfield in that we don't give it respect."

Sleep deprivation can take its toll. Millions of individuals struggle to stay alert at home, in school, on the job, atop farm machinery, and on the road. A sleep shortage causes many problems and can impact family members and significant others as well.

"When people feel tired or fatigued, their social and intimate relationships suffer, their productivity is negatively affected, and they make our roads more dangerous by driving drowsy," agrees Richard L. Gelula, sleep foundation CEO.

Fortunately, you don't have to spend your nights tossing and turning. These practical tips from the sleep foundation can help:

  • Maintain a regular bedtime and wake time, even on weekends. Regular sleep and wake times help strengthen the "circadian clock" in our brains, which regulates the body's need for sleep and activity.
  • Avoid, particularly at bedtime, caffeine and products that contain it such as coffee, tea, soft drinks, and chocolate.
  • Don't use nicotine close to bedtime. Although nicotine relaxes some people, it is a stimulant. Nicotine is found in cigarettes and tobacco products.
  • Avoid alcohol as it can lead to disrupted sleep. While a nightcap or glass of wine may seem relaxing, alcohol impairs the restorative stages of sleep and leads to frequent sleep interruptions.
  • Exercise regularly, but complete your workout at least three hours before bedtime. This gives your body time to rest and prepare for sleep. >
  • Establish a regular, comforting bedtime routine. Take a warm bath, read a book, or listen to soft music each night. Routines are soothing and can help you unwind after a stressful day.
  • Create a sleep-conducive environment. Make sure your sleep area is dark, quiet, preferably cool, and comfortable.
  • Watch those bedtime snacks. Finish your meal or snack 2-3 hours before you retire to bed. Eating too close to bedtime can cause indigestion, heartburn, and sleep disturbances.
  • Sleep on a quality mattress and pillow. The average lifespan of a mattress is 9 to 10 years. Be sure that your mattress is supportive and comfortable. If your mattress is too soft or too firm, consider making a change.

If you've tried such tips, but continue to have difficulty falling or staying asleep, talk with your doctor. Most sleep problems can be diagnosed and treated safely and effectively.

Bethanne Black, of Atlanta, is a freelance journalist who specializes in health care.


"When people feel tired or fatigued, their social and intimate relationships suffer, their productivity is negatively affected, and they make our roads more dangerous by driving drowsy."