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How To Get Restful Sleep

by Kay
(Austin, Texas)

I am a 51 year old woman who has had sleep issues for awhile. I can fall asleep after reading, but I don't sleep restfully. I have gotten into the terrible habit of getting up and moving into another bedroom because I can hear my husband breathe (even though we bought a white noise machine).

Now, when I wake up, I feel hot and agitated and I move into the guest bedroom. Even in another bed, I sleep lightly and I wake up often throughout the night. I am often tired throughout the day.

After a 5 minute cat nap, I feel better and can function well.

I would like to be able to sleep throughout the night without waking up 5-8 times. Can you help me?

Kevin's Answer

Hey Kay,

Thanks a lot for your question. I know one of the most annoying things that I often confront on nights that I have trouble sleeping is feeling hot. I remove blankets, turn on fans, splash cold water on my face--anything to avoid being too warm, because for me personally this makes it near-impossible to rest well.
I think it was the great Ben Franklin who had two beds for the sole purpose of moving to the cool one if he woke up warm at night. So at least you and Ben are already on the same page here in some ways. Great minds think alike :)

Now, some would see your situation and tell you to just try some warm milk before bed, or something of the sort, but let's be more productive than that and see if we can actually delve into the science behind what may be going on.

(Sidenote: Milk contains tryptophan, the same amino acid that perpetuates the mostly mythical "eating turkey makes you tired" saying. The facts are that you would need to drink 2 1/2 GALLONS of milk or eat HALF a turkey for the tryptophan itself to even have a noticeable effect on you. Just a little fun Thanksgiving fact in June :)

The first question I would ask Kay is, while your are struggling to sleep at night, does your mind feel somewhat alert? Our bodies' tendency toward sleep is regulated by two processes: sleep debt and clock-dependent alerting. Sleep debt accumulates as we lose sleep (sounds like you have plenty
of that) and clock-dependent alerting sends out wakeful chemicals to us at certain times of the day (ideally during the day if you want to sleep at night, but this is why I ask).

Sometimes our body clocks can get shifted a bit so that our clock-dependent alerting is high at certain times of the night and low in, say, the mornings and early afternoon. Thus, we have trouble sleeping at times when we FEEL we SHOULD be asleep.

It's essentially jet lag, except without the vacation to make it worth it!

We've got a cool article on this common circadian rhythm funk (clock-dependent alerting is part of your circadian, or daily, rhythms) that you can read: the condition is called delayed sleep phase. You can also check out a student-made brochure here.

In terms of treating this, if you think it may be the culprit, bright light therapy is one of the most effective way of going about it. This could be as simple as exposing yourself to sunlight at strategic parts of the day, or if this is difficult getting a light therapy box. There are numerous light boxes out on the market if you think that's something you'd be interested in. Here's one I just found from Amazon:

I don't know too much about this one specifically--but a quick search brought me to it so I thought I'd post it here to give you an idea of what they look like.

One more really important thing I'll say too is don't be afraid to use sleeping pills for nights where you're having trouble getting continuous, restful sleep. Sleeping pills have garnered somewhat of a taboo in some people's minds, but in most cases this is entirely unnecessary.

Dr. Dement equates keeping a bottle of sleeping pills in your medicine cabinet to having a fire extinguisher. In cases of sleep emergencies (anytime your alertness the following day will be threatened) they're there to put out the fire. All you have to do is just make sure to follow the dosage instructions on the bottle and your body will thank you in the morning.

Feel free to let me know what you think of all this, or if you have any more questions or specifics for your situation. Just use the "post comments" link below.

Comments for How To Get Restful Sleep

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Sep 16, 2010
Night Heat
by: Alice Meyers

For the first time in my life I woke up at four AM and was very very hot, only on the inside, my skin, hands and face were not hot, but I was teriable hot on the inside. It lasted about ten to fifteen minutes and then went away. It was not a hot flash I know what that is. I am 77 years old and was told I had cancer in the lymph glans. I am not taking cemo, but I am using Progestone cream. The only problem I've had so far is the gas in my stomach, its very pain full.
I take the emzine Beano and it helps some.
Thank You for any help you can give me.
Alice Meyers

Jul 25, 2014
A word about the 10000 lux light box NEW
by: delayed2sleep

We're often told to use a light box that gives 10000 lux. Be aware that this is meaningless unless the manufacturer (or your light meter) tells you how far from the eyes the light source must be to attain 10000 lux. Some manufacturer admit that you have to sit within 15 inches to get he 10000 lux. That is not practical! To be practical, the distance needs to be an armlength or so. My light box sits on a shelf above my monitor at 63 cm from my eyes, which is still a bit too far.

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