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Sleep 101

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Appropriate sleep is necessary to help the body maximize its ability to fight disease. When you get enough sleep, you are also more alert during the day which helps you think more clearly when making decisions and dealing with problems. On the other hand, chronic sleep deprivation can have a negative effect on your health. Insomniacs are more vulnerable to infections and other illnesses. Sleep deprivation also affects your ability to cope.

If you find it difficult to fall asleep or to stay asleep, consider the following Do's and Don'ts which have helped other people change the situation: 

DO

  • Check with your doctor to find out if any of your medications or combination of medications could be affecting your sleep. If so, perhaps you can take them earlier in the day or there may be a substitute to consider.
  • Go to bed and wake up on a regular basis at the same time - even on weekends.  
    • Regularity helps set your internal clock.
    • Rising late can disrupt your circadian rhythm, the internal body clock that regulates when you feel alert and when you feel sleepy.
    • Getting up at the same time every morning, even if you're tired, is likely to help you sleep better at night.
  • Limit sleep to the time you really need. Do not linger in bed longer than necessary. (If fatigue makes you want to linger, click here.)
  • Help bring on sleep with any of the following:
    • Drink warm milk, valerian tea or chamomile tea
    • Listen to relaxation tapes 
    • Listen to soft music
    • Meditate lying in bed with your eyes closed
    • Take a warm bath
    • Use prescription or over-the-counter medication.
  • Keep the room dark, with a comfortable cool temperature. 
    • Cover up light from clocks and other devices.
    • If you can't darken the room, wear an eye mask.
  • Cover yourself with a light blanket.
  • If you can't sleep after 20 minutes, consider getting up and going into another room. Return to bed when you get tired.
  • If worries keep you from sleeping at night, consider taking a period of your day when you can sit quietly and think about your worries. (For additional tips for dealing with stress, click here.)
  • Reduce napping time (see below).
  • Exercise regularly - preferably early in the day. Do not exercise within 4 - 5 hours of your regular bedtime. 
  • Try to stay away from your smartphone and other electronic devices for at least an hour before bedtime. The light emitted from these devices ("blue light") can block the production of melatonin, a hormone your brain produces to help you fall asleep Note that many of these devices offer night settings that reduce or filter blue light.
  • Consider smartphone apps to help you sleep better. For instance, consider the following:
    • Relax and Sleep (Android) plays a variety of sounds
    • Simply Rain (IOS) plays soothing sounds
    • Sleepbot (Android, IOS) monitors noises that could disturb your sleep. It also tracks sleep patterns.
    • Sleepbug.net
    • Sleep Cycle uses the iPhone's sensors to moniitor movements and record your sleep patterns. It provides a daily graph that shows how well you stayed in deep sleep.
    • Sleep Pillow Sounds (IOS) plays various sounds such as rain, waves at the shore, and crackling fires

DON'T

  • Drink caffeine or drink/eat other stimulants in the evening -- particularly in the hour before going to bed. Preferably, do not drink caffeine after 4:00 in the afternoon. Caffein is common in coffee, chocolate, black tea and soft drinks.
  • Drink alcohol just before going to bed. Alcohol can disrupt sleep.
  • Go to bed with the television on. It may help to turn off the television an hour or two before you go to bed.
  • Start going to bed too early.
  • Eat, close to bedtime:
    • A large, late meal. It can cause indigestion.
    • Spicy foods. Spicy foods temporarily speed up your metabolism.
    • Beans, broccoli, cauliflower or other gas-producing foods. Gas pains can affect sleep. 
    • Chocolate. Some types of chocolate have as much caffeine as coffee.
    • Try to eat 3 or 4 hours before bedtime.  If you're hungry, have a small snack after dinner with foods that are easy on your stomach.
  • Use your bed or bedroom for anything other than sleep and sex. (Speaking of sex, if sexuality is a problem, click here for suggestions.)

NAPS

Experts are divided about whether a short nap during the day helps. Consider trying taking a nap for a while and see what happens. If you do take a nap, consider the following advice:

  • Make a nap part of your daily routine, including the same time every day if possible.
  • Where you nap should be comfortable and quiet.
  • Since body temperature is generally lower than usual while napping, you are likely to be more comfortable if you cover yourself with a blanket or other covering.
  • Do not nap for longer than 20 or 30 minutes. If you do, the nap can interfere with your nighttime sleep. Following are a few suggestions to make sure you don't nap too long: 
    • Drink a liquid with caffeine in it before starting the nap. For example,drink a cup of coffee or tea. The warm liquid may help you fall asleep. The caffeine should start to take effect in about 30 minutes, waking you refreshed.
    • Set an alarm to go off in about 20 minutes. In addition to clocks, there is likely to be an alarm on your mobile phone. 
  • Do not nap within 3 hours of going to sleep. 

If you continue to have sleep problems, talk with your doctor. He or she can suggest a treatment will be based on the specific diagnosis and contributing factors.  Taking a sleeping medication does not have to be addictive or leave you feeling "hung over" the next day.  As an alternative, consider contacting a sleep clinic. To locate a sleep clinic by zip code, see: www.SleepCenters.org offsite link

NOTE: People in treatment may need more sleep than the average person. If you are in treatment, speak with your doctor.


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