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Break bad pre-sleep habits

Power of Rest

Whether you’re getting eight hours of sleep a night or only five, chances are you’ve acquired some bad pre-sleeping habits. Ask yourself, “When I wake up, do I feel truly rested?” It could be time for a sleep makeover. Dr. Matthew Edlund, author of The Power of Rest, gives a list of small changes you can make to break your bad habits and acquire better ones.

Things Not to Do Before Sleep

Caffeine after midday. The caffeine in coffee, tea, or energy drinks can have effects that last twelve to sixteen hours after you drink. If you’re having trouble sleeping, leave caffeine to the morning. There are documented cases of young women with diagnosed narcolepsy whose problems disappeared after they cut out their two cups of morning coffee.

Alcohol as a nightcap. Alcohol is used by perhaps 5 percent of the U.S. population to fall asleep. In people who don’t normally drink much, alcohol right before sleep will lead to fi fteen to twenty-fi ve added awakenings each night. Also, the worst insomniacs I’ve seen are either alcoholics or former alcoholics, due to the profound effects of alcohol on the brain. If you like to drink, drink in the evening hours before you plan to sleep, a time when alcohol’s positive cardiovascular effects are strong and negative effects are minimized.

Eat a lot. Many suffer from night eating syndrome, waking up to a whole meal around midnight, often after having eaten a meal earlier in the evening. Eating a lot at night promotes more wakefulness and lots of weight gain. A glass of milk before sleep or a small, complex carbohydrate snack is probably okay, especially for diabetics. Lots of sugar at night may cause more awakenings, however.

Writing out plans for the next day. It’s generally better to do planning, as well as worrying and cognitive therapy, hours before you go to sleep. Otherwise, the thoughts may keep you up.

TV right before sleep. Yes, this is controversial, as many use TV as a behavioral cue to fall asleep. But as we saw, visual and sound effects are often used in late-night TV to keep you watching and awake. Also, the effect of light from the TV may keep people up later and longer by shifting inner biological clocks later.

Sleeping pills. Though they’re very helpful for treating jet lag or for temporary periods of sleeplessness, sleeping pills are habituating, as the brain gets conditioned to needing a pill in order to sleep. Even the newer “nonbenzodiazepine” sleeping pills can impair memory and performance.

Dr. Matthew Edlund’s book, The Power of Rest, is available from HarperOne.


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