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March 6, 2017

Dos and Don’ts for a Good Night’s Sleep

by John Hastings

With Daylight Saving Time starting this Sunday, we’re all about to turn our clocks forward -- and lose an hour of sleep. That’s no fun, but for some people inadequate sleep is just business as usual: According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about a third of Americans fail to get the seven to eight hours a night most adults require. “People struggle to concentrate during the day when they don’t sleep enough,” says Praveen Rudraraju, MD, medical director of the Center for Sleep Medicine at Northern Westchester Hospital. “But that’s only the most obvious problem.” Poor sleep has been linked to obesity, increased levels of inflammation and an elevated risk of diabetes, Dr. Rudraraju says. And the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration notes that drowsy drivers cause upwards of 50,000 car accidents a year, and 1,550 deaths.

If you struggle with insomnia or if you could swear you sleep plenty but still feel tired during the day, a treatable medical condition may be to blame, says Dr. Rudraraju – like sleep apnea or restless leg syndrome. A visit to a sleep doctor can help sort that out. But for many people, surprisingly simple lifestyle changes can make a big difference. Here are Dr. Rudraraju’s Dos and Don’ts for a good night’s sleep.

Do:

Keep a regular bedtime. By hitting the sack at the same time every evening, you’ll get help from your internal “clock,” which regulates all kinds of body rhythms. It’s also helpful to establish a small ritual before climbing under the covers, whether it’s a warm bath or gentle relaxation exercises like deep breathing or leisurely yoga stretches.

Get regular exercise. Several studies have linked an exercise habit to sounder sleep. Just don’t do an all-out workout within two hours of bedtime -- it takes time for your body to slow down and relax into a ready-for-sleep state.

Keep your bedroom dark. Light sends your brain a message that it’s time to wake up, so heavy curtains or good blinds are helpful sleep aids.

Shut out noise. The din of traffic or other neighborhood clatter can set off a stress response and interfere with sleep. Inexpensive ear plugs can help; so can white noise (such as from a fan or air purifier).

Stay cool. Even in the winter, it’s helpful to turn down the heater at bedtime. Studies show the best temp for sleep is cool but not cold -- 58 to 62 degrees.

Don’t:

Nap after mid-afternoon. A short nap can be refreshing, but snoozing too close to bedtime can make it hard to drift off. A good cut-off for naps is eight hours before bedtime, says Dr. Rudraraju.

Have a late espresso or nightcap. It’s not exactly surprising that caffeine can keep you up. What may be less obvious is that alcohol can also disrupt sleep. Yes, a drink may help you fall asleep -- but it can prevent you getting deep rest in a number of ways, such as interfering with REM sleep and making you more apt to snore.

Dine heavily right before bed. An active, full belly can leave you tossing and turning.

Watch TV in bed. Use your bed for only sleep and sex – that will help strengthen the unconscious connection you make between bed and slumber, priming you to fall asleep when you climb in.

Keep your mattress too long. Sadly, a mattress doesn’t last forever. Not sure if yours is too old? Ask yourself whether you sleep better when you’re away from home. If the answer is yes, it could be your mattress. While you’re at it, check your pillows -- they don’t last a lifetime, either.