Sleep

One in five Americans sleeps less than six hours a night—a trend that can have serious personal health consequences. Sleep deprivation increases the risk for a number of chronic health problems, including obesity, diabetes, and heart disease. If you have trouble sleeping, the following strategies can help you get more sleep.

Check for underlying causes. Some conditions or medications may be interfering with your sleep patterns. Treating a condition or adjusting a medication may be all it takes to restore better sleep.

Practice good sleep hygiene. Use your bed for sleep and sex only, block as much noise and light as possible, go to bed and wake at the same times each day, and get out of bed if you haven’t fallen asleep within 20 minutes.

Nap if needed. If you like to nap, get your daytime shut-eye in midday. Naps late in the day can interfere with sleep later. If your problem is difficulty getting to sleep at night, then not napping can make you sleepier at bedtime and more likely to stay asleep.

Exercise earlier, not later. Exercise stimulates the body and brain, so make sure you finish exercising at least three hours before turning in.

Watch your diet. stay away from foods that cause heartburn. Ban caffeine-rich food and drinks (chocolate, tea, coffee, soda) at least six hours before bedtime. Don't drink alcohol for at least two hours before bed.

See a sleep specialist. If your own efforts aren't working, you'll want the help of a sleep professional to both diagnose your problem and propose behavioral and possibly drug treatments.

Sleep Articles

Sleepwalking and Sleep Terrors

A person who is sleepwalking walks or makes other movements that seem purposeful. This occurs while in a state of partial wakefulness from deep sleep. Contrary to popular belief, sleepwalkers don't act out their dreams. Sleepwalking doesn't take place during the dreaming stage of sleep. Sleepwalking is also called somnambulism. It is common in school-age children. Repeated sleepwalking is more common in boys. It is frequently associated with nighttime bedwetting. Sleepwalking probably occurs because the brain's ability to regulate sleep/wake cycles is still immature. Most children outgrow the symptoms as their nervous systems develop. Sleepwalking that begins later in life or lasts into adulthood may have psychological causes. These include extreme stress or, rarely, medical causes such as epilepsy. Sleep terrors are a disorder in which a person wakes up quickly in an extremely frightened state. Sleep terrors (also called night terrors) are related to sleepwalking. The disorder usually occurs in young children. (Locked) More »

Insomnia

Insomnia is difficulty getting enough sleep or trouble sleeping without interruption. You may have difficulty falling asleep, may wake up too early, or may wake up periodically during the night. Insomnia of any kind can keep you from feeling rested and refreshed during the day. Almost all of us have episodes of insomnia at some time, but insomnia is not a short-term problem for everyone. Insomnia is classified as chronic when it happens almost every night for at least one month. Insomnia can be related to a medical or psychiatric illness, can be caused by mental stress or excitement, or can be caused by your daytime and bedtime habits. Your habits and surroundings are the usual causes of short-term insomnia problems. Factors that contribute to insomnia can include: Stress or anxiety A change in sleeping environment (being a guest at a hotel or a relative's home) An uncomfortable sleeping environment (too hot, too cold, too bright, too noisy) An uncomfortable mattress Pajamas that are too tight Having a bed partner who snores or has disruptive sleep patterns Watching television, reading a book or problem-solving in your bed, so your brain associates lying down in bed without activities other than sleeping Eating a heavy meal before bedtime Taking a prescription medication that has insomnia as a side effect Drinking alcoholic beverages before bedtime Having a high intake of beverages containing caffeine (coffee, tea, cola) during the day Cigarette smoking Exercising immediately before bedtime Not exercising enough during the day, so you have energy to spare Taking a hot bath or shower before bed Traveling to a different time zone Traveling to a much higher altitude Shift work Pregnant women are particularly vulnerable to insomnia. Women who are pregnant may have insomnia because of hormone changes, heartburn, leg cramps or a need to urinate more frequently. In addition, the unborn baby's increasing size often makes it harder for the mother to find a comfortable sleeping position. Chronic insomnia may be caused by a medical or psychiatric problem. Some common causes of chronic insomnia include: Psychiatric illness, especially depression or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) Chronic medical illnesses, especially kidney disease, heart failure or asthma Painful illnesses, especially arthritis, neuropathy, acid reflux or cancer Hormone imbalance, especially menopause or hyperthyroidism Taking a prescription medicine that has insomnia as a side effect Restless legs syndrome -- This disorder causes uncomfortable sensations in the legs. Symptoms can include twitching of the legs, a habit of repetitive leg movements, and leg cramps Obstructive sleep apnea Sleep apnea is a common condition. However, often the people that have this problem don't realize it. Snorers or people who are overweight may have repeated episodes in which breathing stops for 10 seconds to 30 seconds during sleep, just when the person is relaxing into deep sleep. Sleep apnea is caused most often by relaxing the tongue and throat tissues, which can settle into a position that closes your airway. Your body reacts to sleep apnea by releasing adrenaline-like "alarm" hormones so you will awaken and resume breathing. These hormones keep you awake for periods of the night. (Locked) More »

Sleep Apnea

Sleep apnea is a disorder that causes people to stop breathing for short periods during sleep. These periods are called apneas. Apneas usually last between 10 and 30 seconds. In severe cases, apneas can happen many hundreds of times each night. People with untreated sleep apnea are more likely to develop high blood pressure. Apneas disrupt a person's ability to get a good night's sleep, making them less alert during the day. This can lead to accidents. People with untreated sleep apnea are up to seven times more likely to be involved in motor vehicle accidents. There are two types of sleep apnea: Obstructive sleep apnea occurs when the airway in your nose or throat becomes partially or completely blocked. It can be blocked by large tonsils, a large tongue or by too much tissue in the airway. Excess tissue in the airway is more common in people who are overweight. When airway muscles relax during sleep, this extra tissue can block the breathing passages. Central sleep apnea occurs when the brain stem, the area of the brain that controls breathing, is damaged. The brain stem may be damaged by an infection or stroke. (Locked) More »

Narcolepsy

Narcolepsy is a disorder that causes sudden episodes of deep sleep. These episodes can occur often and at inappropriate times, for example while a person is talking, eating or driving. Although sleep episodes can happen at any time, they may be more frequent during periods of inactivity or monotonous, repetitive activity. Narcolepsy usually appears between ages 15 and 30, but the condition can appear earlier or later. Once it appears, narcolepsy is present for life. Men and women are affected equally. (Locked) More »

Jet Lag

Jet lag is a type of sleep disorder that is a reaction to traveling between time zones. Our bodies naturally develop a sleep-wake cycle that is tied to the patterns of light and dark in our environment. This cycle, called the circadian rhythm, affects many body processes, including temperature and hormone levels. Because traveling between time zones changes the light-dark patterns in your environment, it can disrupt your body's rhythms. A change of even a few hours may not seem significant, but often it is enough to affect the body's sleep-wake cycle. For example, a Californian who travels to New York may receive a wake-up call at 7 a.m., but his or her body still is running on California time, where it is only 4 a.m. The effects of jet lag go beyond being tired for a few extra hours. Because the disruption in the sleep-wake cycle affects your body's hormone levels, many body processes can be thrown off balance, leading to a variety of symptoms. (Locked) More »

Sleep apnea wakes up heart disease

The snorts, whistles, gasps, and groans you make while sleeping may do more than rob you and your bed partner of a good night's sleep. They may steal years of your life, too. That's the message from two large studies that looked at the influence of sleep apnea, a special cause of snoring, on life span. When you breathe, air usually flows soundlessly through the nasal passages and the pharynx (the back of the throat), and then on into the lungs. During sleep, the small muscles that hold open the pharynx relax, allowing the tissue to flop into the airway. Air rushing through this loose tissue can make it vibrate. We hear the vibrations as snoring. In people with simple snoring, the airway remains open. Sleep apnea is a different story. People afflicted with this common condition temporarily stop breathing many times a night. In those with the most common kind, obstructive sleep apnea, the soft tissue of the palate or pharynx completely closes off the airway. The brain, sensing a drop in oxygen, sends an emergency "Breathe now!" signal that briefly wakens the sleeper and makes him or her gasp for air. More »

Nighttime awakenings in menopause may be caused by sleep disorders, not hot flashes

Hot flashes aren't anybody's friend, but they may be getting an unfair rap for disrupting women's sleep at midlife. Studies have often reported that sleep problems increase during the menopausal transition, reinforcing the idea that hot flashes (also called vasomotor symptoms) are to blame. But even under controlled conditions in sleep laboratories, the connection between hot flashes and sleep disruption remains unclear. Moreover, in certain circumstances, vasomotor symptoms may be the result — not the cause — of nighttime awakenings. Now, a study concludes that some of the sleep problems that women typically attribute to hot flashes may instead be caused by primary sleep disorders such as apnea. The findings suggest that women may not be receiving appropriate treatment for their sleep difficulties. To determine the cause of poor sleep in peri- and postmenopausal women, researchers at Wayne State University School of Medicine in Detroit assessed the sleep of 102 women, ages 44 to 56, who reported having trouble sleeping. The researchers found that 31 women had periodic limb movements (PLM), 23 had sleep apnea, and six had both. In other words, 53% had a primary sleep disorder. Among the entire group, 56% had measurable hot flashes. A separate analysis of the data showed that while apnea, PLM, and brief awakenings were the best predictors of poor sleep in the laboratory, on the questionnaires completed beforehand, poor sleep was more likely to be associated with anxiety and hot flashes during the first half of the night. The Wayne State investigation is the first to examine menopausal sleep complaints using both objective and subjective measures. The study was small and may not be representative of all menopausal women with sleep complaints. But the finding that half the women in this sample had primary sleep disorders, not just hot flashes, bears further investigation. Sleep problems are often assumed to result from hot flashes, but treating hot flashes isn't likely to resolve a serious underlying sleep disorder. More »

When You Visit Your Doctor - Insomnia

Are you particularly stressed at work or at home? Are you depressed or anxious? Do you have any underlying medical problems such as hyperthyroidism or sleep apnea? Do you snore? Do you have chronic pain or difficulty breathing at night? Do you have restlessness or twitching of your legs at night? Do you drink caffeine-containing beverages after noon (such as coffee or sodas)? Do you use stimulants? Drink alcohol? Take sedatives? Smoke cigarettes? Do you take any medications? What time do you usually go to bed? What time do you get up in the morning? Do you eat or work before going to bed? Have you noticed changes in your sleep patterns? Do you wake frequently at night? Do you feel tired during the day? How long do you stay in bed before you fall asleep? Do you have worries about not sleeping? Blood pressure, heart rate, weight General physical exam Complete blood cell count Thyroid function Sleep study with monitoring of heart rate, respiratory rate, oxygen level, eye movements, and brain waves   More »

Going Safety of over-the-counter sleeping pills

Many people wonder about over-the-counter (OTC) medications like Tylenol PM that combine a pain reliever and a sleep aid. These pills help many get to sleep, but is it a good idea to keep on taking them? The sleep-inducing ingredient in Tylenol PM is diphenhydramine, an antihistamine. People take antihistamines for hay fever or cold symptoms, but doctors have known for a long time that they also make people drowsy. Other nighttime pain relievers (Alka-Seltzer PM, Excedrin PM) contain diphenhydramine, and it's the only active ingredient in OTC sleeping pills like Sominex and Simply Sleep. Sominex and the allergy-relief version of Benadryl have exactly the same active ingredient: 25 milligrams of diphenhydramine. Dr. David White, director of the Sleep Disorders Program at Harvard-affiliated Brigham and Women's Hospital, is not a fan of the antihistamines. He says they leave many people feeling groggy and tired rather than rested. And true to their anti–hay fever effects, they dry out the nose and mouth. More »