How to Get A Great Night’s Sleep

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July 22, 2014 (Updated: March 10, 2015)
Leigh Erin Connealy, M.D.

I have a confession to make. Years ago, when I was first starting my practice, I used to cheat when it came to sleep. It was a bad habit left over from medical school.

Overworked students and interns regularly cut corners, staying up a little later each night, getting up earlier, and pulling all-nighters before exams.

A few years later, raising three small children and operating a busy practice didn’t improve those habits, either.

Then, while reading a medical journal, I came across an article on the effects of sleep deprivation—none of them good. The most serious problem was the hit your immune system takes, making you more susceptible to colds, flu, and other infections.

At the same time, more and more patients were asking me about insomnia remedies and complaining of sleep problems. As I researched their problems, it became apparent that sleep was far more important than we realize.

That was twenty years ago, and since then sleep has become one of my eight Pillars of Health.

Deep, restful sleep gives your body a chance to renew and repair damage, starting with your cells. When that process is interrupted, health issues are inevitable. In fact, researchers now know that insufficient sleep is even more harmful to your health than lack of exercise.

That’s why I want to highlight some facts that may help you sleep. If any of these apply to you, make changes now, before serious damage is done.

Facts About Sleep

Watching television or reading news on a tablet does not help sleep

The bright light from electronic devices or televisions can decrease production of melatonin, a hormone that your body needs for healthy sleep.

Melatonin production is highest between the hours of 10 p.m. and 2 a.m. But that only happens if you’re asleep in a dark room.

If you don’t go to bed until 1 a.m., or nod off with the television on, you are not going to make up for the fact that you’ve missed the prime melatonin-producing portion of the night – even if you sleep late and get 8 hours of sleep. In other words, the phrase “early to bed, early to rise” is actually very good advice!

If you can’t fall asleep, don’t just pop a prescription sleep aid

Millions of people rely on these drugs. In fact, they’re so popular, sales have doubled in the past decade. But that doesn’t mean they’re a good solution.

Morning drug “hangovers” are common, and so is weakness and confusion. Some patients have reported episodes of strange behavior during the night, things like online shopping sprees and driving, with no memory of what was done the next day.

My advice? Try melatonin supplements, a safe, effective sleep remedy that’s also a powerful, healing antioxidant. And get regular exercise.

Caffeine will not help you sleep

Caffeine does not affect everyone the same way. But for some people, even a tiny amount of caffeine can leave them wide awake in the wee hours.

If you’re having sleep problems in spite of having given up coffee, don’t forget that many other beverages contain caffeine, including sodas and chocolate drinks. Certain medications are another source.

If you wake up during the night, don’t just stay in bed until you’re drowsy again

Research has repeatedly shown that the best way to get back to sleep is to get up and do something that’s not stimulating – read something that’s not too exciting, knit, or work a puzzle. Laying in bed struggling to sleep just makes you frustrated and doesn’t work.

Sleep disorders are common

Sleep complaints are one of the most common reasons for doctor visits in this country. Experts estimate that millions of people – 20 to 30 percent or more of the population – struggle with sleep disorders every night.

Sleeping less is not a good solution

Maybe you’ll “get used to it,” but research has shown that sleep-deprived people make more errors and have more accidents, which cancels out any time savings. My advice? Get your 8 hours’ worth – every day!

If you have trouble sleeping, a turkey sandwich probably isn’t the answer

Yes, turkey contains tryptophan, an amino acid linked to sleep. But it would take hundreds of turkey sandwiches – more than 45 pounds of turkey, according to one expert – to get enough tryptophan to make you drowsy.

If you’re bothered by sleep problems, I recommend Mother Nature’s remedies, like valerian, 5-HTP, and melatonin. And new research has shown that melatonin may reduce the risk of prostate cancer and some breast cancers.

Please try these solutions on a consistent basis and I promise you that you will start enjoying a really good night’s sleep every night.

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