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Having trouble sleeping? Try these tips

December 21, 1999|By Lynn F. Little

Tossing and turning at night? Wondering if you'll ever get to sleep? You're not alone. From Seattle to Singapore, one in four adults suffers from some degree of insomnia, according to World Health Organization. Unfortunately, this is not something we outgrow; the incidence of insomnia actually increases with age.

cont. from lifestyle

If you suddenly have bouts of severe insomnia that won't go away, it's a good idea to get medical advice. If you spend a lot of time worrying about not being able to sleep, you can make the problem worse. Relax and be patient with yourself. In the end, most people work out their own ways to deal with insomnia. Or, try these tips from the authors of University of California Wellness Letter:

* Avoid heavy meals late in the evening. A light snack, however, can help some people sleep.

* Avoid coffee, tea and other caffeinated beverages late in the day or after dinner.

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* Avoid smoking, especially late in the day. Nicotine, like caffeine, is a stimulant.

* If you drink alcohol, keep the amount low, and don't drink it after dinner. Alcohol is a false friend. Though it may help you fall asleep, it tends to reduce the quality of your sleep so you wake up in the middle of the night.

* Drink a small glass of milk - warm or cold - before bedtime.

It is not known if milk's effect is psychological or physiological, but many people find it helps.

* Exercise regularly. In a recent study of 700 men and women, those who exercised even once a week were less likely to have disturbed sleep than those who didn't exercise. Though you don't want to engage in strenuous exercise just before bedtime, mild stretching exercises can help relax tense muscles so you sleep better.

* Take a warm bath before bedtime. When you get out of a hot tub, your body temperature drops. This may help you fall asleep when you do get in bed.

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* Avoid daytime napping, even if you're tired. If you don't have trouble sleeping at night, though, there's nothing wrong with a short daytime nap.

* Try not to worry too much about not sleeping. Don't keep checking the clock. Focus on something mildly entertaining or even boring, but not depressing. Count sheep, cars or butterflies. Reconstruct some pleasant recollection. If you still can't sleep, get up and read or listen to music in a darkened room. Then go back to bed when you feel sleepy.

* As for sleeping pills and potions, most over-the-counter sleeping pills actually are antihistamines, which make most people drowsy. They are not risk-free and should be used sparingly. Prescription sleeping pills such as Valium, Xanax and Halcion can help temporarily, especially if your sleeplessness is caused by a situational anxiety. However, like alcohol, these drugs are false friends. Side effects can include drowsiness and disorientation, and they can be addictive. Use them only as a last resort and then for no more than three nights in a row.

* Finally, there's melatonin, a so-called "natural sleeping pill" sold without a prescription. Melatonin is a human hormone produced by the pineal gland. It plays a role in setting our biological clocks and helps regulate sleep.

Melatonin shows promise as a sleeping pill, at least for people who don't produce enough of their own. But it, too, can have side effects, including daytime drowsiness. Not enough is known about melatonin. Like other drugs posing as nutritional supplements, it has limited regulations. In fact, there's no guarantee that what you buy in the store is even melatonin at all.

For nformation about labeling on nutritional supplements, send a self-addressed, 33-cent stamped business-size envelope to Maryland Cooperative Extension, Washington County Office, 1260 Maryland Ave., Hagerstown, Md. 21740. Mark the envelope, "Supplements."

Maryland Cooperative Extension programs are open to all citizens without regard to race, color, sex, disability, age, religion or national origin.

Lynn F. Little is a family and consumer sciences extension educator for Maryland Cooperative Extension, Washington County.

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