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Medical Minutes: Answers to frequently asked questions


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Mary McVean


Question: Dear Practitioner McVean, how can I get better
I go to bed at night right after I go through all my e-mails again and watch a little TV afterward. Sometimes I fall asleep right away with the TV on but then I wake up needing the bathroom and I can’t get back to sleep. Help!

ANSWER: Here are 12 tips to combat sleeplessness from Why We Sleep by Matthew Walker PhD, originally published online by NIH Medicine Plus, US National Library of Medicine.

1. Stick to a sleep schedule. Go to bed and wake up at the same time each day. Set an alarm to go to bed just like how you get up.

2. Exercise is great but not too late in the day. Exercise 30 minutes most days but not later than 2-3 hours before bed.

3. Avoid caffeine and nicotine. Coffee, colas, certain teas, and chocolate contain the stimulant caffeine, and it takes 8 hours to wear off fully.

4. Avoid alcoholic drinks before bed. Having a nightcap before sleep may help you relax, but heavy use robs you of REM sleep, keeping you in the lighter stages of sleep. It also makes you wake up when it wears off.

5. Avoid large meals and beverages late at night. A light snack is okay but a large meal can cause indigestion which interferes with sleep. So does fluid consumption and forces you to get up to use the bathroom.

6. Avoid medicines that delay or disrupt your sleep if possible. Asthma, cough, cold or allergy medications may cause sleeplessness. Talk with your practitioner about changing the times to take your medicine.

7. Don’t take naps after 3 pm. Naps are good ways to make up sleep loss but will interrupt the next nights rest.

8. Relax before bed. Don’t over schedule your day so that no time is left for unwinding. A relaxing activity such as reading or listening to music should be part of your bedtime ritual.

9. Take a hot bath before bed. It will drop the body temperature when you get out and make you sleepy.

10. Keep your bedroom dark, cool and gadget-free. Remove anything that will distract you from sleep including smartphones, TVs and computers. Program your phone for only emergency numbers to get through. Don’t watch the digital clock, turn it away from you.

11. Have the right sunlight exposure. Daylight is key to regulating daily sleep patterns. Try to get outside in natural sunlight for at least 30 minutes each day. Use bright lights in the morning and turn down lights at night prior to bed.

12. Don’t lie awake. If you find yourself still awake after staying in bed for more than 20 minutes or if you are starting to feel anxious or worried, get up and do some relaxing activity until you feel sleepy.  The anxiety caused by not being able to sleep can make it harder to fall to sleep.

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