To Your Health
Getting a Good Night’s Sleep
A top doc’s new Rx for falling-and staying–asleep
Getting a good night’s sleep has become more elusive than ever: The economy is keeping one in four of us up at night, according to a poll by the National Sleep Foundation in March. As if that weren’t bad enough, now we have a flu outbreak to worry about too. No surprise that sales of over-the-counter sleeping aids like Advil PM and Tylenol PM are up sharply.
If you’re tossing and turning, here’s what to do. Our authority is Phil Eichling, M.D., director of the sleep lab at Canyon Ranch Resort in Tucson, Arizona, who says, “The rewarding aspect of sleep medicine is that most people do get better. While we may not be able to prevent waking, we can usually relearn how to go back to sleep.”
His number-one technique is Zen breath watching. It’s simple, here’s the drill: Count your breaths up to 10 and then repeat. “The theory is to distract your brain so it doesn’t race. Basically, you bore yourself to sleep.” Another fave technique to avoid waking yourself up if you snore is to pin a tennis ball in a sock to the back of your PJ top. You won’t be able to roll onto your back, the prime position for snoring.
Other ways to fall asleep and stay asleep:
- Eschew caffeine and other stimulants (caffeine has a half life of 7 hours, which means 50 percent is still in your system at bedtime even if you haven’t had any since midafternoon), and be aware that alcohol and sugar can also block your sleep.
- Keep your bedroom cool, which mimics the cave temperature in which our ancestors slept.
- Create a before-bed ritual that calms your mind and prepares you for sleep (reading–no thrillers, please–or listening to music).
- Get at least 15 minutes of sunlight between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m., and dim the lights after 9 in the evening, which helps set your circadian rhythm of sleeping and waking.
- If you can’t fall back to sleep, get up and do some gentle stretches or yoga poses before getting back into bed, which research has shown to trigger the relaxation response.
If all this fails, and you’re still awakening many times and are dog-tired during the day, you can consider a sleep study, where you stay overnight in a lab with all kinds of sensors attached to see if you have a specific problem, such as sleep apnea, restless leg syndrome or TMJ.
Getting a good night’s sleep is more than mind over matter; these simple strategies can help you pinpoint your specific problem so you can banish it from your bedtime routine.