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Counting Sheep?

Sleep is essential to everyone’s health, safety, and quality of life. Adults should get seven to eight hours of sleep each night, and adolescents should get about nine to 10 hours of sleep. Your body needs this much sleep each night to repair the body and restore functions such as memory and mood.

If you find yourself counting sheep every night just to fall asleep, or if you’re dozing off during the day when you should feel awake and refreshed, you may need to try some simple techniques to help get the proper type and amount of sleep your body needs. If those things don’t help, your doctor can help determine if an underlying medical condition is causing you to lose sleep. Most sleep problems and disorders can be diagnosed and are treatable in safe and effective ways.

Try some of these tips to help you get better sleep:

Maintain a schedule
Maintain a regular bed and wake time schedule, including weekends. It will help your brain maintain your body’s balance of sleep and wake time, even when there is a temptation to sleep in on the weekend.

Bedtime routine
Establish a regular, relaxing bedtime routine. Soak in a hot bath, read a book, or listen to soothing music. A relaxing, routine activity right before bedtime helps separate your sleep time from activities that can cause excitement, stress, or anxiety.

Environment setting
Create an environment that is dark, quiet, comfortable, and cool. If noise or other distractions are in your bedroom, consider using blackout curtains, eye shades, ear plugs, humidifiers, or fans.

Restricting food & exercise
Finish eating at least two to three hours before your regular bedtime. Also avoid spicy foods that may cause heartburn and make it difficult for you to go to sleep. Unless you find milk or herbal, decaffeinated teas to be a soothing part of a bedtime routine, try to restrict fluids close to bedtime to prevent nighttime awakenings to go to the bathroom.

It’s best to complete exercise at least a few hours before bedtime. In general, exercising regularly makes it easier to fall asleep and contributes to sounder sleep.

Avoid stimulants
Caffeine and nicotine are stimulants, which means they can produce an alerting effect. Caffeine products can remain in the body, on average, from three to five hours, so avoid caffeine within six to eight hours of going to bed. Nicotine can cause difficulty falling asleep, problems waking in the morning, and may also cause nightmares.

“Consistently missing too much sleep can cause severe psychological disturbances, hallucinations, mood, and immune system disturbances,” says David Hiestand, M.D., a pulmonologist at University of Kentucky Hospital. “Talk to your doctor if you have trouble falling asleep, staying asleep, waking earlier than you should, do not feel refreshed after sleep, or have excessive sleepiness during the day.”

Keep a diary
Keeping a sleep diary for at least two weeks can help when talking to your doctor. Each day write down what type of problem is affecting your sleep or if you are sleepy during the day. Record your sleep times, any sleep-related activities, and any medications you are taking. Then, show it to your doctor so he or she can determine if there is an underlying cause to you not getting enough sleep or being sleepy when you should be awake. It can help you and your doctor properly diagnose and treat the problem.

“It also helps to talk with your bed partner about activities that occur while you are sleeping that you may not be aware of, such as snoring, choking, or gasping for breath while you sleep,” Hiestand says.

Also tell your doctor if you doze off during the day or while driving, have stress or anxiety, or are a night-shift worker.

For more information on a sleep diary and other tips, visit the National Sleep Foundation’s Web site at You also can contact the University of Kentucky/Samaritan Sleep Disorders Center in Lexington at (859) 226-7006. The Center has a sleep clinic for diagnosis and treatment of sleep disorders in adults and children.

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