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Sleep tight

By Ben Larrison CTW FEATURES

sure you get enough sleep. But despite the warnings, chances are we’re never quite


as well-rested as we wish we were. Sleep loss affects people in plenty of negative ways, from heightened irri- tability to a weakened immune system, so making sure you get your Z’s should be considered pretty crucial. Yet while doctors recommend adults get about seven and a half hours of sleep per night, a 2011 National Sleep Foundation report said Americans average less than seven hours on weeknights.

Fortunately, there are plenty of ways to both develop

healthy sleep habits, and to get more out of your sleep. For starters, establish and stick to a good sleep routine. “Routine is very important, as far as being able to go to sleep properly and easily,” says Dr. William Kohler, medical director of the Florida Sleep Institute in Spring Hill, Fla. “The routine is very significant.” While falling asleep at a reasonable hour obviously is beneficial toward getting a good night’s sleep, perhaps even more signifi- cant is waking up at the same time every morning – yes, even on weekends. “Getting up that same time every day is very important to keeping that internal clock,” says Dr. Ronald Popper, American of the Academy of Sleep Medicine in Darien, Ill.

That being said, you cannot force yourself to go to sleep. “The cardinal rule is that you don’t go to bed at a par-

he average person has probably heard it his entire life, from when he was a kid with a bedtime to his latest physical: If you want to be at your best, make

ticular time, you go to bed because you’re sleepy,” says Popper, “not just at 10 or 11 o’clock at night.” If you don’t fall asleep within 15-20 minutes of getting into bed, he says, “Get out of bed, go into another room, and do some- thing relaxing until you become sleepy.”

One way to help ensure you are tired when you first get

into bed: exercise. “Daily, vigorous exercise really, really helps for people who have any type of (trouble sleeping),” says Dr. Lisa Shives, medical director at Northshore Sleep Medicine in Evanston, Ill. Sleep doctors recom- mend getting 30 to 60 minutes of cardio approximately 4 to 5 hours before going to bed, as exercise too close to bedtime can lead to an epinephrine buildup that may keep you from getting to sleep. If that does not work into your schedule, lean on the side of working out earlier in the day rather than later.

But like so many sleep-related habits, it’s ultimately

going to be up to your personal preferences. Figuring out when to exercise “…is really easy for a patient to experiment his or her self,” says Shives, the sleep expert at “For two weeks, do your exercise early in the morning. If you’re actually able to choose when to do it, you can be your own control. See what works best for you.”

After all that exercise, you’re bound to work up an

appetite. But keep in mind the choices you make about what you eat and drink could wind up affecting you come bedtime. Some basic foods and drinks to avoid before bed include simple carbohydrates, caffeine, and alcohol – even

in 2012 Break the bad-sleep cycle for better health

22 Health Connections

January/February 2012

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