Tick tock, tick tock, tick tock. You stare in the dark at the numbers
glaring back at you on your alarm clock. It is 3 a.m., and the makings of
another night of interrupted sleep and frustration are apparent. As you
contemplate what is wrong with you, think about this: It may be what you do
during the day that's giving you insomnia at night.
Sleep is one of the most important needs in life. All creatures need it to
function. Without it, we break down mentally and physically. Lack of sleep can
cause moodiness, lack of concentration, and sluggishness. But why is it so
essential? Researchers still don't know.
Even as a child I hated waking up early in the morning. Something about
being startled out of a deep sleep by a clanging alarm made me feel disoriented
and lonely. Alas, now, as a working mother, I often have to wake early -- to
fit in a workout, check business emails, or make preparations for my children's
I still don't like it.
For many of us, getting up before we would naturally is painful -- because
it's too early, too sudden, or too dark. Is there a path to kinder, gentler
Regardless, Americans with their jam-packed schedules often try to delay
sleep as much as possible and may unknowingly do other things that could hinder
sleep when they actually do want it. In fact, diet and other lifestyle habits
could be secretly sabotaging efforts to get a few much-needed ZZZs.
"We know that certain foods that we consume can interfere with sleep,
says Carl E. Hunt, MD, director of the National Center on Sleep Disorders
Research at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Md. "The most
obvious one in terms of stimulating wakefulness would be caffeine, and then
Nearly half of Americans report having insomnia at least on occasion,
according to the National Sleep Foundation. Adults need an average of eight
hours of sleep to function well. Older people tend to need a little less --
about 7.5 hours. It's estimated that nearly half of people over age 65 have
sleeping difficulties. This can stem from changes in lifestyle, such as napping
more during the day, discomfort from physical conditions, such as arthritis,
and emotional difficulties and depression.
But lifestyle habits can play a leading role in quality of sleep, too, or
lack thereof. So the first thing you should do is analyze your patterns and
environment. The Cleveland Clinic recommends these tips for good sleep
Not going to bed until you are tired
Setting a regular schedule to get up in the morning, even on weekends
Not napping during the day
Avoiding caffeine, alcohol, and nicotine at night
Not watching TV, eating, or reading in bed
Following the same bedtime rituals each night
Avoiding rigorous exercise three hours before bedtime