Snooze News You Can Use

If you’re having trouble sleeping, in addition to consulting your doctor, here are some strategies that can help put you on the road to a better night’s sleep.

Darken your Bedroom

Invest in room-darkening bedroom shades that block moonlight and early morning sun. “As much we need light during the day, we need darkness at night,” says Sonia Ancoli-Israel, PhD, director of the sleep disorders clinic at the Veterans Affairs San Diego Healthcare System in California. If you get up during the night to go to the bathroom, she suggests using a nightlight to show the way rather than turning on a bright overhead light.

Reserve Your Bed for Sleeping

Move the television set into another room and, if possible, limit bedtime reading to a chair next to your bed. Otherwise, you send your body the message that the bed is a place to stay awake. If you can’t fall asleep after 15 minutes, leave the bedroom and do something boring until you feel tired.

Avoid Caffeine and Alcohol

Scientists believe that caffeine blocks the action of adenosine, the organic compound that promotes sleep, and stimulates brain cells to work overtime. If sleep is really a problem, Ancoli-Israel suggests avoiding any caffeine after lunchtime. Besides obvious sources, such as caffeinated coffee (103 mg caffeine in 6 ounces), tea (36 mg in 6 ounces), and cola beverages (49 mg in 12 ounces), try to steer clear of hidden caffeine in foods like coffee-flavored yogurt (44.5 mg in 8 ounces) and chocolate (6 mg in 1 ounce).

As for alcohol, you may be able to get away with having a glass of wine with dinner and still sleep well. But if you’re having trouble, do without anything alcoholic for a few weeks to see if it makes a difference. As for nightcaps, forget them. Alcohol will make you drowsy initially, then cause you to wake hours later.

Grab a Nap—Maybe

For some people, a short midafternoon nap can make all the difference to the rest of the day, but for others, it’s the recipe for lost sleep at night. Certainly, people suffering from insomnia should avoid naps. If you’re among those who take some time to doze off during the day, don’t sleep too long; 15 to 20 minutes should be about enough.

Exercise

“Exercise helps you sleep longer and fall asleep faster,” says Abby King, PhD, of Stanford University School of Medicine in California. King is the lead researcher of a study on the relationship between exercise and sleep. The study randomly assigned 43 men and women over age 50 to exercise moderately (such as a brisk walk before dinner) for 30 to 40 minutes four days a week or to do nothing for four months. At the end of that time, she found that those who exercised generally slept an hour longer each night and also could fall asleep more quickly.

Get Some Afternoon Light

If you don’t want to hit the hay just as the dinner dishes have been cleared, spend time outdoors in the afternoon. If you’re stuck in your office, take a break by going for a midafternoon walk. This can help turn back your circadian clock and counteract the natural aged-related tendency to fall asleep earlier in the evening and wake up earlier in the morning. If that doesn’t work, you might consider a light box. For more information on light boxes, log on the website of the Circadian Lighting Association. Make a habit of sitting in front of it for a couple of hours in the evening while you read or watch television. Exposure to this kind of light also helps shift your internal clock.

Eat Lightly at Night

For reasons that are still unclear, a sizeable meal an hour or two before bedtime can interfere with sound sleep. So if you eat dinner after 8 p.m., try to make it a light meal.

What tips do you have for getting a better night’s sleep?