Monday, July 30, 2012


Sleep is key to better health

Given the hectic pace of our everyday lives, it is especially important to get a good night’s sleep.  Unfortunately for many of us, this is easier said than done; it is estimated that insomnia affects 64 million Americans annually. 

There are many potential causes of insomnia, including stress, certain over-the- counter and prescription medications, and some pre-existing health conditions.  There are medications available to treat insomnia, but it is best to focus first on having good sleep hygiene.

There are many factors that you can control that affect your ability to get restful sleep:

•  One of the most important is the consistency of your sleep schedule.  Going to bed at the same time every night and waking at the same time every morning allows your body’s natural sleep/wake cycle to stay regulated.  Try to keep a similar sleep schedule whether it is a weekend or a weekday.  This will help you sleep better all week, because over time your body will start to prepare for sleep as your bedtime approaches.  It is also advisable to limit naps during the day, as they will also disrupt the sleep/wake cycle.  If a nap is necessary, limit it to no more than 20 minutes duration, and avoid napping late in the afternoon to hopefully reduce any impact on that night’s sleep.

•  Avoid any stimulating substances that could prevent you from falling or staying asleep.  Two of the most common culprits are caffeine and nicotine.  Do not drink caffeinated beverages after lunch, and do not smoke in the evening, if at all.  It is also important to note that alcohol, although initially sedating, actually has a negative overall effect on sleep.  The process of metabolizing alcohol, and the byproducts formed by the breakdown of alcohol in the body, prevents restful sleep.  As a result, alcohol should not be used in attempt to induce sleep.  Additionally, keep in mind that excessive fluid intake, whether alcoholic or not, will cause waking for bathroom use.

•  To help unwind as bedtime approaches, engage in quiet, relaxing activities, such as reading a book or listening to soothing music. 

•  Avoid watching TV before bed, as the brightness of the screen can keep your mind alert and awake. 

•  And although daily exercise of 20 minutes or more has been shown to be beneficial for sleep, it should not be done within four hours of bedtime due to its temporary stimulating effect.

•  Try to remove any stressful or worrying thoughts from the forefront of your mind before going to bed.  If the next day’s tasks have you stressed, make a list of them before bed.  This simple act helps clear the mind of stressful thoughts for the night. 

•  If nothing seems to be working, and you cannot sleep after trying for 15 minutes or so, get out of bed for a short while. Staying in bed and tossing and turning will only make it progressively more difficult to sleep.

Ultimately, insomnia is a difficult condition to treat.  Focusing on healthy sleep habits is an essential first step.  When healthy habits alone are not enough, there are medicinal options available that can provide relief, though they are often safest and most effective when taken for short periods of time and in moderation.  If you are considering trying one, talk with your physician or pharmacist to determine which one is the best choice for you.

Ryan Jones, PharmD, RPh, is a member of the Backus Hospital Department of Pharmacy Services. To comment on this column or others, visit the Healthy Living blog at or e-mail Mr. Jones or any of the Healthy Living columnists at

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