If you are spending enough time in bed and still
wake up tired or feel very sleepy during the day, you
may be one of the estimated 40 million Americans with a
sleep disorder. The most common sleep disorders are
insomnia, sleep apnea (sleep-disordered breathing),
restless legs syndrome, and narcolepsy. Although sleep
disorders can significantly affect your health, safety,
and well-being, they can be treated. Talk to your doctor
if you have any of these signs of a sleep disorder:
■ You consistently take more than 30 minutes each night
to fall asleep.
■ You consistently awaken several times each night and
then have trouble falling back to sleep, or you awaken
too early in the morning.
■ You often feel sleepy during the day, you take
frequent naps, or you fall asleep at inappropriate times
during the day.
■ Your bed partner says that when you sleep, you snore
loudly, snort, gasp, make choking sounds, or stop
breathing for short periods.
■ You have creeping, tingling, or crawling feelings in
your legs or arms that are relieved by moving or
massaging them, especially in the evening and when
trying to fall asleep.
■ Your bed partner notices that your legs or arms jerk
often during sleep.
■ You have vivid, dreamlike experiences while falling
asleep or dozing.
■ You have episodes of sudden muscle weakness when you
are angry or fearful, or when you laugh.
■ You feel as though you cannot move when you first wake
up. Keep in mind that children can have some of these
same signs when they have a sleep disorder, but they
often do not show signs of excessive daytime sleepiness.
Instead, they may seem overactive and have difficulty
focusing or doing their best in school.
Get a Good Night’s Sleep
Like eating well and being physically active, getting a good night’s sleep is vital to your well-being. Here are 13 tips to help you:
■ Stick to a sleep schedule. Go to bed and wake up at the same time each day—even on the weekends.
■ Exercise is great but not too late in the day. Avoid exercising closer than 5 or 6 hours before bedtime.
■ Avoid caffeine and nicotine. The stimulating effects of caffeine in coffee, colas, teas, and chocolate can take as long as 8 hours to wear off fully. Nicotine is
also a stimulant.
■ Avoid alcoholic drinks before bed. A “nightcap” might help you get to sleep, but alcohol keeps you in the lighter stages of sleep. You also tend to wake up in the middle of the night when the sedating effects have worn off.
■ Avoid large meals and beverages late at night. A large meal can cause indigestion that interferes with sleep. Drinking too many fluids at night can cause you to awaken frequently to urinate.
■ Avoid medicines that delay or disrupt your sleep, if possible. Some commonly prescribed heart, blood pressure, or asthma medications, as well as some over-the-counter and herbal remedies for coughs, colds, or allergies, can disrupt sleep patterns.
■ Don’t take naps after 3 p.m. Naps can boost your brain power, but late afternoon naps can make it harder to fall asleep at night. Also, keep naps to under an hour.
■ Relax before bed. Take time to unwind. A relaxing activity, such as reading or listening to music, should be part of your bedtime ritual.
■ Take a hot bath before bed. The drop in body temperature after the bath may help you feel sleepy, and the bath can help relax you.
■ Have a good sleeping environment. Get rid of anything that might distract you from sleep, such as noises, bright lights, an uncomfortable bed, or a TV or computer in the bedroom. Also, keeping the temperature in your bedroom on the cool side can help you sleep better.
■ 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.
■ Don’t lie in bed awake. If you find yourself still awake after staying in bed for more than 20 minutes, get up and do some relaxing activity until you feel sleepy. The anxiety of not being able to sleep can make it harder to fall asleep.
■ See a doctor if you continue to have trouble sleeping. If you consistently find yourself feeling tired or not well rested during the day despite spending enough
time in bed at night, you may have a sleep disorder. Your family doctor or a sleep specialist should be able to help you.