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Sleep, or lack of it, affects us in many ways. Our health, immune system, mental acuity, emotional state, relationships, physical growth, performance, and even our waistline is affected by our quality of sleep. For many of us, this good quality sleep is getting harder to come by. Here are some answers on how to get the best sleep possible.
Q. How much sleep should I get?
A. According to sleep expert Michael J. Breus, Ph.D., it is a myth that everyone needs 8 hours of sleep. Different people in different stages of life need different amounts of sleep. Small children tend to need 11-12 hours, while grade school through high school kids need about 9 to 10 hours a night. By the time you are 18 to 19, the amount of sleep you need per night is generally set and it could range from 6 to 9 hours. One way to see how much you need is to see how many hours you got on the nights when you woke up and felt rested.
Q. Is it true that surfing the Internet before bed will interfere with my sleep?
A. In a group of people who reported spending up to 2 1/2 hours a night browsing sites on the Internet, over one-third of them also had some kind of problem with their sleep. 2. Watching late night TV can also make sleep less productive. The light your body is exposed to from the TV and computer screens also disrupts natural sleep cycles and rhythms. This is important to consider not just for adults, but for teens and children too.
Q. Does not getting enough sleep cause you to gain weight?
A. Yes, it does. When you sleep, you replenish hormones that regulate your feelings of satiety, (feeling full), and feelings of hunger and craving food. People who are sleep deprived may not feel full, even when they have eaten enough, and may crave high fat and sugary foods. They tend to eat more food of lower nutritional quality than those who get enough sleep. Read “What Sleeping has to do with Your Waistline” for more information.
Q. Is it true that exercise will help me sleep better?
A. Absolutely. People who exercise tend to sleep more deeply than those who don’t. This means that they get into the deeper stages of sleep and get better restorative rest in shorter periods of time. Daily exercise will also help to increase overall sleep. Most people do not want to exercise right before bed as it tends to cause feelings of wakefulness, energy, and exhilaration. There are some people however, who feel very relaxed and tired after exercise. They may actually benefit from exercising right before bedtime.
Q. My husband snores and it does wake me up several times a night. Does that affect my quality of sleep?
A. Yes. People who sleep with those who snore actually lose about an hour of quality sleep per night. This may add up to losing a good night’s sleep every week. You may want to get some ear plugs with a rating of 32. This will help mute the snoring but let in important sounds like a crying child or a fire alarm.1 Ear plugs can also help those who travel drown out hotel and street noise.
Q. I am a night owl. I seem to get energized late at night and then I can’t fall asleep.
A. Many parents have probably noticed with their small children that if it gets past bedtime, they may get a boost of energy and then they can’t settle down no matter how tired they are. This is true with many adults. Once this adrenaline kicks in, it is very hard to go to sleep. The solution is to go to bed before that happens. Have a consistent bedtime for you and for your kids.
Q. What about pets in the bed?
A. Sleeping with pets is a lot like sleeping with small children and those who snore. You may get enough hours of sleep, but not enough hours of quality sleep. When a pet like a dog is in a dream state, they may move their legs or growl. (We all know when a dog is dreaming he’s chasing a cat.) These movements can wake you during the night keeping you from staying in those deep stages of sleep and getting quality rest.
Q. I have heard that there are certain colors that help you relax. Should I paint my bedroom one of those colors?
A. It isn’t the color per say, but the hue of the color that induces that relaxed feeling. You probably want to avoid bright colors and go for more muted or soft hues in the bedroom.
Q. My husband likes the room just a few degrees below freezing. Is it really better to turn the heat down at night or is he just trying to save energy?
A. While a few degrees above freezing might be a bit nippy for sleep, it actually is better to sleep in a cool, dark room. At night your core temperature drops naturally for sleep. If you are too cold however, you might wake up, so try putting on a pair of socks. You will probably need to try out a few temperatures to see what works best for you. You can also program your home’s thermostat to gradually warm up your room before you have to get up.
Q. Does drinking wine before bed help you to fall asleep?
A. Wine does have the ability to make you feel drowsy and relaxed for sleep. The problem is that the alcohol in the wine will keep you in the lighter stages of sleep, which is not the highest quality sleep, so you may not feel rested when you waken. Alcohol is also a diuretic, which means that no matter how much you drink, you will need to urinate more. This can cause more night time trips to the bathroom, another sleep disruptor and possibly dehydration. Most hangovers are actually caused by the lack of deep sleep and dehydration. Dr. Michael J. Breus, a sleep expert, says one glass of wine is fine with him, but more than that will probably affect your sleep negatively.
Q. How can I make my room more conducive for sleeping?
A. According to sleep experts, what you see before bed stays with you, so a clean, organized room is a great place to start. Make sure that the room is as dark as possible for sleeping and that great natural light is available during the day. Limit your bedroom to a place for sleeping and sex, and paint the walls with more subdued colors to enhance a relaxed feel.
Q. Is it possible that my period interferes with my ability to sleep?
A. Yes, that is a possibility. Some women also notice a difference during PMS. Women also generally have a harder time sleeping after they have gone through menopause.
Q. Will drinking warm milk before bed help me fall asleep?
A. There is not a lot of evidence that supports this, so speaking scientifically the answer is no. There is possible a psychological affect however. This means if it is something that you think helps you to feel relaxed, it just might work.
Q. Are there natural remedies that may help?
A. Yes, but you need to read about them and understand how to use them. Some of these herbs that have scientific data supporting their use as sleep aids include Valerian, Chamomile, and Lavender. Lavender is most helpful as an essential oil and used in aroma therapy.
Q. I’ve heard eating a large meal makes you feel sleepy. Should I eat a lot before going to bed?
A. No. Your digestive system is not made to digest food lying down. It is better to have a small snack with a little bit of protein, (too much protein will help keep you awake), and some carbohydrates to help you avoid waking up in the night with hunger pangs. Some good examples are peanut butter on toast or a small bowl of cereal.
Q. Is there something I can do to help me relax and fall sleep?
A. Yes, meditation and progressive relaxation (gradually tensing and relaxing muscles), have been proven to be effective in helping people relax and fall asleep.1
1.” Good Night: The sleep Doctor’s 4 week Program to Better Sleep and Better Health.” Michael J. Breus, Ph.D.
2. Why You Should Nix Midnight Surfing. Real Age