Good Sleep: Can It Still Be Simple?

All's quiet, yet you still can't sleep. Do you really need a NASA-designed pillow or a computerized bed to fix your sleep problems?

From the WebMD Archives


Insomnia takes many forms: trouble falling asleep; waking up often during the night -- and having trouble going back to sleep; waking up too early in the morning -- and feeling tired when you wake up.

Physical problems such as ulcers or back pain can cause insomnia, as can medical issues such as asthma, allergies, medications, and sleep apnea. Emotional problems like depression and anxiety can be a cause. Irritations in our sleep environment -- bothersome lights and noises, for example -- can keep us awake. So can lifestyle issues such as caffeine, nicotine, alcohol, or exercise late in the day.

Creating Your Comfort Zone

Creating the perfect sleep-inducing scenario is called "sleep hygiene" -- and it's a well-researched science, says Lorenzo. "There's a whole body of literature on how to promote sleep at the right time.

A comfortable sleep environment is an important factor in getting a good night's sleep, Lorenzo adds. After all, we're such sensitive creatures: Our comfort is critical to whether we can sleep or not. The bedroom's temperature - if it's too warm or too cold - can make it difficult to sleep, she says. "Also, hunger is very activating and can make it difficult to sleep."

Indeed, what soothes you to sleep is very personal, says Michael Twery, MD, acting director of the NIH's National Center on Sleep Disorders Research. "For children, a teddy bear may help; for adults, listening to relaxing music is a sedative. Part of being sleepy is not being alert. If you're very worried, if your sleep environment is hostile, your body will produce stress hormones that keep you awake."

That's why in a strange environment -- like a hotel -- we have trouble sleeping, he notes. "Certain smells can be bothersome for some people. Others are very sensitive to sound. Some will need white noise or a rhythmic sound to help them sleep, while another person finds those sounds annoying. We're all wired differently."

Sleep Products May Help

Eye masks have been used for decades by the sleep-challenged, Twery says. "Light on the eyes affects the biological clock in our brain, which drives wakefulness," he tells WebMD. "It's not to say we can't sleep in the presence of light, but it might make for disturbed sleep."