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8 tips to a good night's sleep without relying on medicine, from the Harvard Women's Health Watch

With several popular hypnotic sleep aids, including zolpidem (Ambien) and temazepam (Restoril), now linked to an increased risk of death, the July 2012 issue of the Harvard Women's Health Watch offers eight tips for getting a better night's sleep without medicine.

Almost everyone has trouble sleeping from time to time. But when insomnia persists day after day, it can become a real problem. Beyond making a person tired and moody, a lack of sleep can have serious effects on health, increasing the risks for obesity, heart disease, and type 2 diabetes.

Sleep issues can plague women as they get older. "Later in life there tends to be a decrease in the number of hours slept," says Dr. Karen Carlson, associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and director of Women's Health Associates at Massachusetts General Hospital.

Many women turn to sleep medications in search of more restful slumber. However, these drugs can have side effects ranging from appetite changes to dizziness, drowsiness, dry mouth, and strange dreams. A study in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) found that people who were taking hypnotic drugs had a higher incidence of cancer, and death, than people who didn't take these sleep medicines.

If a sleep aid is needed, there's no reason to avoid using one. But before turning to pills, here are eight tips for getting a better night's sleep:

  • Exercise at some point during the day.
  • Reserve your bed for sleep and sex—not work or TV.
  • Keep the bedroom comfortable.
  • Start a sleep ritual.
  • Have a bedtime snack—but not too much.
  • Avoid alcohol and chocolate before bed.
  • Wind down before going to bed.
  • See your doctor about what's keeping you up at night.

Read the full-length article: "8 secrets to a good night's sleep"

Also in the July 2012 issue of the Harvard Women's Health Watch:

  • Bisphosphonates may not benefit women's bones long-term
  • Can you get a yeast infection after menopause?
  • Is it a food intolerance, or a food allergy?
  • What to do if your heart is out of rhythm

Also in this issue of the Harvard Women's Health Watch

  • 8 secrets to a good night's sleep
  • Ask the doctor: What should I do about a kidney cyst?
  • Ask the doctor: Can I get a yeast infection after menopause?
  • What clinical studies can do for you
  • I can't eat that!
  • Is your heart out of rhythm?
  • In the journals: Vitamin E no help for heart failure
  • In the journals: Better habits could cut cancer deaths
  • In the journals: Study highlights exercise for memory

More Harvard Health News »


About Harvard Health Publications

Harvard Health Publications publishes four monthly newsletters--Harvard Health Letter, Harvard Women's Health Watch, Harvard Men's Health Watch, and Harvard Heart Letter--as well as more than 50 special health reports and books drawing on the expertise of the 8,000 faculty physicians at Harvard Medical School and its world-famous affiliated hospitals.