As we enter middle age, our sleep becomes more fragmented and less deep. We waken more easily with noise, and it takes longer to fall back to sleep.
For 12 basic hints to help you sleep better, Harvard has published this excellent list that can be a big help. And here are some highlights from a recently published interview by Harvard Medical School neuroscientist and sleep researcher, Dr. Orfeu Marcello Buxton.
Won’t alcohol help me fall asleep?
If you have problems with insomnia, alcohol could make the problem worse. A drink in the evening might allow you to fall asleep easier, but for most people this comes at a price—your sleep will be lighter, and more disrupted. Any long-term sleep deficit will not be improved. If you snore, or have sleep apnea, all that will be worse after alcohol.
Alcohol blocks our brain from reaching the deepest levels of sleep, and blocks the normal release of growth hormone that occurs in the early part of the night. This hormone release helps our bodies in many ways, working to maintain our skin elasticity, our bone strength, and even helps us keep our weight under control (sleep-deprived people have a harder time losing weight).
Are naps a good way to make up for sleep deficit?
Mid-afternoon siestas were once an accepted custom in many cultures, but as life and business becomes more demanding, many people think siestas or naps are unacceptable. That is unfortunate, however, as naps can be physiologically very beneficial.
The general rule is that if you have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep at nighttime, you should try to avoid daytime naps (especially after mid-afternoon), as they might make your nighttime problem worse. But if you sleep reasonably well at night and you feel the need for a nap, do it! It is healthy and can recharge your performance and mood for hours. Just keep naps under 20 to 30 minutes; otherwise you may wake up feeling sleepier, since you entered a deeper stage of sleep from which it is harder to become alert.
What about if I wake up for hours in the middle of the night?
This is a difficult and common situation, and some people find they fall into a pattern of “segmented sleep”, meaning they sleep for a few hours, then stay awake for an hour or more, then go back to sleep. But before the invention of artificial lights, in many cultures it was common for people to have two sleep periods. The first sleep began soon after sunset, followed by an awake interval of several hours, then a second sleep period that ended around sunrise. It may be, for you now, a segmented sleep at night is acceptable if you are not sleep-deprived during the daytime.
Computers and sleep?
Computer screens, tablets, and many phones emit a blue-tinged light, which directly impairs our body’s circadian clock and ability to sleep. See the link below for more information.
But if you want to use devices within an hour or two of sleep (or if you are exposed to lots of fluorescent light at home) and you have insomnia, although it sounds strange, you might try wearing amber sunglasses for a couple hours before bedtime.
Or, you might try a new computer application (free) f.lux, that changes the color of your monitor to a more sleep inducing color at night. Some people have reported success with this method.
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