Notes from an emergency room doctor: I can't
sleep. I want to sleep. I've got to sleep. But
- BZZZZ! It's time to get up. And all the rest
of the day, I've got to stop yawning.
This scenario of insomnia and daytime drowsiness
is familiar territory for those who work night
shifts, frequently travel long hours across several
time zones, or suffer from physical complaints.
It is not just night-shifters, jet-setters,
or the infirm that fall prey to sleep-deprivation
and fatigue. A common by-product of our high-tech
life in the 90's is stress. Today's work often
involves long hours and sometimes seemingly never
ends. It can follow you home on a car phone, into
your home via fax, or even on vacation as you
access a laptop. And so, anxiety and stress can
also make it difficult to get a good night's sleep.
A good sign that you're getting enough sleep
is if you fall asleep in about ten minutes and
wake up easily in the morning. If you go to sleep
in just moments, you're probably overtired. And
if you're drowsy during the day, you're probably
not getting enough sleep.
You may not be able to alter your job, or travel
schedule, or the stresses in your daily life,
but you may be able to improve on your night's
sleep, if you try the following techniques:
* Use your bedroom for sleeping, not for reading,
TV. watching, or work.
* Your bedroom should be comfortable. Slightly
cool is better than too warm. And you should be
able to make it quiet and dark.
* Avoid caffeinated beverages after mid-afternoon.
* Avoid smoking. Nicotine is a stimulant.
* Avoid spicy late night meals. They may cause
* Although alcohol can make you drowsy, avoid
it after dinner because it can also cause you
to wake during the night by altering sleep patterns.
* Reduce your fluid intake after 8 p.m. to avoid
nighttime trips to the bathroom.
* A light snack or small glass of milk before
bedtime may help you sleep better.
* An exercise routine is helpful but avoid exercising
within 3 hours of bedtime.
* A wind-down calming period is helpful about
30 minutes before retiring. Listen to soothing
music, meditate, read, or take a bath.
* Avoid napping more than 15-30 minutes during
the day and never after about 3 p.m. Chronic insomniacs
should not take naps at all.
Many people with insomnia resort to over-the-counter
sleep remedies. Most of these contain diphenhydramine
or benadryl. This is an antihistamine which, although
it has sedative properties, can also have adverse
side-effects like dry mouth and dizziness. Chronic
users can develop a tolerance to these sleep aids,
requiring ever greater doses to be effective.
Prescription drugs called "sedative-hypnotics"
are useful for short term relief of sleep disorders.
These may be benzodiazepines like Valium which
have some potential for abuse or they may be newer
drugs with less abuse potential like Ambien. From
3 to 11 percent of adults take "sleepers,"
and the percentage increases with age.
Even if you have the time and inclination to
sleep, perhaps the greatest bane to getting a
good night's rest is television. Just because
you're lying in bed watching late night TV. doesn't
mean you're getting healthful rest. Sleep is a
process where the brain disconnects itself from
sensory and motor inputs. So, shut it off. If
you keep watching enough of that junk, you won't
have much of a brain left to disconnect.