Sleeping Problem – After a night of spinning and spinning, you wake up like a couple of the seven dwarfs: sleepy and cranky. Restless nights and tired mornings can become more frequent as we age, and our sleep patterns change – often starting around menopause when hot flashes and other symptoms wake us up.
We all have trouble sleeping now and then, but when insomnia persists day in and day out, it can become a real problem. In addition to making us tired and moody, it can also seriously affect our sleep, increasing our propensity for obesity, heart disease, and type 2 diabetes.
If you’re having trouble falling asleep or staying asleep, you may have turned to sleep pills in search of more restful sleep. However, these medications can have side effects – including changes in appetite, dizziness, drowsiness, stomach discomfort, dry mouth, headache, and strange dreams. A recent study in the British Medical Journal linked several hypnotic sleeping pills, including zolpidem (Ambien) and temazepam (Restoril), with a potentially increased risk of death (although it has not been possible to confirm how much of the trouble was associated with these drugs).
You don’t have to avoid sleeping pills if you need them, but before you start taking medications, try these eight tips to help you sleep better:
Taking a brisk walk every day will not only shorten you, but you will also stay awake less often at night. Exercise enhances the effect of natural sleep hormones such as melatonin, says Dr. Carlson. A study in the journal found that postmenopausal women who exercised for about three and a half hours per week fell asleep more quickly than women who exercised less often. Just pay attention to the timing of your workouts. Exercising too short before going to sleep can be stimulating. Carlson says a morning workout is ideal. “Exposing yourself to bright daylight first thing in the morning will help the natural circadian rhythm,” she says.
2. Book a bed to sleep and make love
Don’t use your bed as a desk to answer phone calls and emails. Also, avoid watching TV there late at night. “The bed needs to be a stimulus to sleep, not wakefulness,” advises Dr. Carlson. Book your bed to sleep and have sex.
3. Keep it comfortable
The television is not the only distraction in your room. The atmosphere can also affect the quality of sleep. Make sure your bedroom is as comfortable as possible. Ideally, you want “a quiet, dark, cool environment,” Dr. Carlson says. “All of these things promote sleep onset.”
4. Start a sleep ritual
When you were a kid and your mom read you a story and put you to bed every night, this heartwarming ritual helped you fall asleep. Even in adulthood, a set of bedtime rituals can have a similar effect. “Rituals help signal the body and mind that it’s coming to be time for sleep,” explains Dr. Carlson. Drink a glass of warm milk. Take a bath. Or listen to soothing music to relax before going to bed.
5. Eat—but not too much
A rumbling stomach can distract you enough to keep you awake, but a belly that’s also full can be again. Do not eat a large meal within two to three hours of bedtime. If you’re hungry right before bed, have a small, healthy snack (like an apple with a slice of cheese or a few whole wheat crackers) to keep you satisfied until breakfast.
6. Avoid alcohol and caffeine
If you snack before bed, wine and chocolate should not be included. Chocolate contains caffeine, which is a stimulant. Surprisingly, alcohol has a similar effect. “People think it makes them a little sleepy, but it’s a stimulant, and it disrupts sleep during the night,” Dr. Carlson says. Also, avoid anything acidic (like citrus fruits and juices) or spicy, causing heartburn.
Bills keep piling up, and your to-do list is a mile long. Daytime concerns can bubble to the surface at night. “Stress is a stimulus. It activates the fight-or-flight hormones that work against sleep,” Dr. Carlson says. Give yourself time to unwind before going to bed. “Learning some form of the relaxation response can promote good sleep and can also reduce daytime anxiety.” Try deep breathing exercises to relax. Take a slow, deep breath in and then exhale.
8. Get Medical Advice
The urge to move your legs, snoring and a burning sensation in your stomach, chest, or throat burning are symptoms of three everyday sleep disruptors: restless legs syndrome, sleep apnea, and gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GERD. If these symptoms prevent you from sleeping at night or make you tired during the day, see your doctor for evaluation.
Take sleeping pills safely.
If you’ve experienced lifestyle changes and they don’t work, your doctor may prescribe hypnotic sleeping pills. These medications can help you fall asleep faster and stay asleep longer, but they can also have side effects.