Common Sleep Questions | Part 2
February 23

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Does exercise affect my sleep?

Exercise is one of the best defenses against insomnia. Exercise increases the amplitude of daily rhythms and tells the body to promote deeper sleep cycles to help replenish the muscle tissues from daily physical exertion. Both aerobic and anaerobic exercise seem to work as well. I have noticed that exercise too close to bedtime can disrupt some people’s sleep cycle. The best time to exercise is 4 – 6 hours before bedtime, but studies also show that people are more likely to stick to a routine if they exercise first thing in the morning. Either way, exercise is helpful.

Is my sleep affected by how my room is set up?

Definitely. Here are some tips:

Keep the room cool. A sleeping temperature of 60 to 65 degrees is best for most people, even in the dead of winter. In hot weather, use a floor or ceiling fan to create a breeze, or an air-conditioner set at about 70 degrees.
Keep the room dark. Look around your bedroom: the alarm clock read-out that glows in bright red; the charging indicator on your cell phone or PDA, the monitor on your computer, the battery indicator on the cordless phone or answering machine, the DVD clock and timer. Each of these takes a small toll on your sleep as each little bit of light can keep you from reaching deep restorative sleep. Cover or move the clock, use dark shades or drapes on windows if they are exposed to light or wear an eye mask. If there is even the tiniest bit of light in the room it can disrupt your circadian rhythm and your pineal gland’s production of melatonin and serotonin.

Block out noise. Whether it is from outside, inside or someone snoring next to you, noise can affect your sleep. Try a white noise machine or a fan that hums to block out the disruptive sounds. If that does not help, try earplugs.

What are feelings on alarm clocks?

Sleep researchers at the Mayo Clinic believe if you need an alarm clock to wake you up, you’re not sleeping right. Alarm clocks interrupt the sleep cycle and keep sleep from completing naturally, pushing sleep problems into succeeding days. It can also be very stressful to be awoken suddenly. Dawn simulation devices with a special built-in light that gradually increases in intensity are much more effective at establishing a healthy sleep cycle and gently rousing you from sleep.

What are your feelings on sleeping pills?

Sleeping pills mask sleep problems and do not resolve the underlying cause of insomnia. Many sleep studies have concluded that sleeping pills, whether prescription or over the counter, over the long term, do more harm than good. They are also highly addictive and have been found in studies to be as dangerous as cigarette smoking.

It is always best to identify and correct the root causes of sleep problems rather than using medications as a band-aid. Sleeping pills can actually make insomnia worse, not better. Also, since higher mortality rates are associated with chronic sleeping pill use, and since these pills are addictive, don’t take them.

What are your feelings on naps during the day?

I am all for naps but don’t nap for longer than 30 or 40 minutes. Long naps during the day especially after 4pm or even brief nods in the evening while watching TV can damage a good sleep rhythm and keep you from enjoying a full sleep at night.

If naps are necessary, keep them under 30 or 40 minutes and before 4pm. In general, short naps may not hurt sleep and in fact a short siesta for half an hour after lunch or a power nap for half an hour before 4pm works well for many people.

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