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Video: Can’t sleep? Try these tips for a restful night

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    >> this morning on "today's health" trouble sleeping ? if you can barely see over your coffee this morning there may be a good reason. research shows us that 70% of women spend more time trying to fall asleep than sleeping. the majority are suffering from insomele knee i can't -- insomnia which affects 32 million americans and counting. kerry peterson joins us. good morning.

    >> good morning.

    >> why are so many of us suffering from this?

    >> insomnia is on the rise. we have identified four main reasons. first is stress. stress is on the rise. we go to bed worrying about what's going to happen the next day, about our jobs, our lives. it makes it difficult to fall asleep. causes the production of cortisol which interrupts the sleep cycle . also, we are not exercising enough. exercise really helps you fall asleep. i highly recommend if you're having trouble falling asleep, exercise.

    >> how much?

    >> 20 to 30 minutes of cardiovascular activity.

    >> take a walk for 20, 30 minute ifs you can.

    >> yeah.

    >> you're seeing this is on the rise so it's something people have to take care of. you talked about things people can do. you know, at some point you may have to see a doctor.

    >> yeah.

    >> this becomes chronic. not just once in a while because my son is having trouble in school or i'm having trouble at work or my husband, it's something mo --

    >> correct. it could be an underlying condition. not just primary insomnia which has no known cause. investigate the cause with your doctor. first of all, emotionally you can be suffering from depression, anxiety. you can have multiple medical problems like arthritis, thyroid disease , reflux. if you're a shift worker and you work at night and sleep during the day that can be a cause. certain medications, caffeine, if you drink caffeine after 2:00, big problem. that's a no-no. alcohol, drugs. there are lots of sleep disorders that can be identified such as sleep apnea and restless leg syndrome .

    >> once you checked off that you don't have a medical condition and you're maybe just exhausted because of stress, you talked about a walk. one thing i used to do was write down before i went to sleep the things i had to get done, what worried me because that's what happens. you get overwhelmed. do you recommend that?

    >> it's good to compartmentalize things and ask what can i handle now? can i make a decision to impact me and put my mind at ease before i go to sleep? if not, put it aside until morning. it will be there tomorrow.

    >> maybe if you have worries and writing it down isn't sufficient, maybe talking to your friends, going to a therapist.

    >> there are things, first off, certainly talking to a therapist can be helpful just to unload your stress. relaxation techniques can be very helpful. yoga, meditation. then there are therapies that a therapist can go through with you. one called sleep restriction which is where you limit the number of hours you're in bed. so you're only spending time in bed sleeping. rath ra not lying there awake. another technique is called reconditioning where you associate your bed only with sleeping. only go to bed when you're very tired. if you're lying in bed more than 30 minutes restless, get out of bed, go back to your living room and engage in a quiet activity until you become sleepy again. it takes the anxiety out of the bedroom.

    >> you can prepare -- i mean, isn't sleep also to some degree allowed when you follow the same pattern right before you go to sleep at night? in other words, create a pattern?

    >> yes.

    >> maybe create a place in your bedroom that makes it feel like a place you want to sleep?

    >> all of these -- sleep hygiene is important. spend at least one hour before bedtime winding down, keeping the lights dim to avoid the artificial light exposure like television, computers, smart phones . all the light inhibits the production of melatonin which allows you to fall asleep. you want your bedroom to be just for sleep. you want it to be a peace fful place. make sure it's cold enough. don't watch tv in your room. that makes you associate other activities with the bedroom. only go to bed when you're exhausted. wait until you're sleepy before you cross the threshold and make your bed every day. just having a clean, neat bedroom and unfolding the bed is another ritual that can help.

    >> yeah. sometimes with my kids and my family i always say before they go to bed, everything is going to be just fine. there is nothing to worry about. you're going to be fine. take a deep breath.

Research has shed light on why sleep problems are skyrocketing -- and stress is to blame.
updated 3/31/2011 9:15:53 AM ET 2011-03-31T13:15:53

Tired of tossing and turning? Read on. We've discovered the secrets to blissful slumber. 

In addition to food, water, and air, sleep is the one thing we truly can't live without. But experts say more and more women are falling short on shut-eye, and staring at the ceiling all night isn't just frustrating — it can also be life-threatening.

Studies show that one in six fatal car accidents is caused by a sleep-deprived driver, and according to the National Sleep Foundation (NSF), the 40 million Americans who now suffer from sleep disorders are at higher risk for a slew of serious health issues. Here, what's behind the insomnia epidemic, plus fast-acting solutions for getting quality sleep.

The vitamin Z deficiency
A growing number of nocturnal ailments are robbing women of critical slumber. To date, there are about 90 official sleep disorders, the three most common being insomnia, restless leg syndrome, and sleep apnea, a potentially life-threatening disorder in which people stop breathing during sleep, says Philip Westbrook, M.D., former president of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine.

10 Sleep Myths Busted

New research has shed light on why sleep problems are skyrocketing. As with many health issues, stress is to blame. "Thanks to the economy, there's been a big increase in stress, especially in women," says Alan Lankford, Ph.D., president and CEO of the Sleep Disorders Center of Georgia." And stress can have a huge impact on falling and staying asleep." When you're mentally keyed up at night, your body pumps out the stress hormone cortisol, which acts like an adrenaline shot that prevents snoozing.

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Also contributing to sleepless nights is a genuinely modern double threat: overactive minds and underactive bodies. Thanks to our coffee culture, people tend to suck down jolts of energy well into the afternoon. "Any kind of caffeine, even the small amounts in hot chocolate and candy bars, can impair your sleep if ingested after 2 p.m.," says James Maas, Ph.D., coauthor of Sleep for Success! Everything You Must Know About Sleep but Are Too Tired to Ask.

Artificial blue light from a television or computer is another powerful mental stimulant that blocks production of the sleep hormone melatonin. So fiddling with your iPad or watching Conan within an hour of bedtime signals your brain to stay alert — and awake. This might not be such a big deal if we got off our butts more often. "Women evolved to be physically active from morning to night," says Westbrook.

"But today's desk-bound woman, even one who regularly hits the gym, still doesn't get the exercise her body was built for, and ample exercise is crucial for good sleep."

A wake-up call for your health
A solid third of your life should be spent in slumber, and not just so you can recover from those happy hours gone wild. Sleep is critical for overall health, says Maas, "and people are starting to realize it's a necessity, not a luxury." As you snooze, your body repairs errant cells, builds bone and muscle, consolidates memories, and stores up energy for the days, weeks, and years ahead. Sleep is so important, in fact, that some doctors consider how much you get to be a vital sign, on par with body temperature and blood pressure, says Lankford.

When you're spent, your healthy habits tend to disappear. Fatigue makes the body crave a quick hit of energy — otherwise known as a high-calorie carb-fest. (Ever hit a fast-food drive-through after a rough night?) Going to the gym, a smarter pick-me- up, can seem about as doable as taking a trip to Mars, which is why nearly 50 percent of women report skipping exercise when they're beat, according to the NSF.

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Are You Sabatoging Your Sleep? 

Habitually skimping on shut-eye can also lead to chronic health problems or worsen preexisting ailments. "Sleep deprivation is cumulative," says Lankford.

"If someone needs eight hours a night and gets only six every night for a week, by Friday she will be functioning on sleep debt." Long term, that can spell malfunctioning hormones that pave the way for increased risks of depression, heart problems, gastrointestinal issues, type 2 diabetes, and breast and colorectal cancers. (Breast cancer, for example, has been linked to high levels of estrogen and low levels of melatonin; production of both of these hormones is affected when you're sleep deprived.)

Hitting the bottle
Tossing and turning night after night can make a person desperate enough to storm her doc's office. But instead of searching for the root causes of insomnia, many physicians simply whip out their prescription pads. "Until recently, many doctors were not trained in sleep treatment in med school," says Maas. "Of the 90 or so sleep disorders, most physicians can name around four. Many hand over pills because they don't know how else to solve the problem." To wit, a whopping 60 million sleep prescriptions were filled in 2009, according to research firm IMS Health.

All this pill popping has ushered in a new set of problems. For one thing, some sleep drugs are addictive, especially older ones such as benzodiazepines. Even the new class of nonbenzos can be habit forming, says sleep doctor Shelby Freedman Harris, Psy.D., director of behavioral sleep medicine at Montefiore Medical Center's Sleep-Wake Disorders Center in New York City. "Though people are not hooked on them physiologically, they can develop a psychological dependence and think they'll never sleep if they don't take a pill," she says. Rare but scary side effects include things like memory loss and sleepwalking, sleep driving, or sleep sex. Plus, says Westbrook, no studies show what extended use of these drugs does to your body.

15 Tricks To Sleep Better

"The bottom line is that prescription sleeping pills are a short-term solution," says Maas. Simply put, drugs may be a godsend for temporary insomnia, but continuous use could be dangerous.

"Taking a pill won't get to the underlying issue," says Westbrook. Most frightening of all, "insomnia can be a symptom of depression, and depressed patients who take sleeping pills have an increased risk of suicide." Likewise, sleep apnea, when treated with Rx sleep meds, can turn fatal.

Put sleep issues to rest
A safer and more effective cure for sleep problems lies in improving what doctors call sleep hygiene, a combination of natural snooze-inducing practices. Clean up your slumber routine with these tricks:

  • Stick to a regular schedule
    "Routine is so important," says Maas. "You have one biological clock--not one for the workweek and one for the weekend. You need to synchronize it and go to sleep around the same time every day." Changing up your snooze schedule confuses your brain's sleep center and promotes restless nights.
  • Keep things cool
    When you nod off, your core body temperature drops by about a degree and a half, says Lankford. Encourage the process by setting your bedroom thermostat to around 68°F. If you still feel hot at night, you could be smothering yourself under a comforter that's too warm, so switch to a lighter one. Another trick: Take a hot bath before bed. As your body cools, it transitions more easily into sleep mode once you lie down.
  • Don't be afraid of the dark
    Artificial light messes with your internal clock and acts as a stimulant, inhibiting the flow of melatonin. "An hour before bed, turn off your iPad or computer, and don't text or watch TV," says Harris. And by all means, stop watching the clock! Not only do digital versions give off a melatonin-disrupting glow, but watching 20 minutes tick by can lead to more hours of sleepless anxiety.
  • Exercise earlier
    Working out soothes insomnia-fueling stress and eventually lowers your body's built-in thermostat, a necessary presleep step, explains Robert Oexman, D.C., director of the Sleep to Live Institute in Joplin, Missouri. Just finish off your cardio at least four hours before bed — any later and your body temp will still be too high, keeping you awake.
  • Try some pillow talk
    If adopting the sleep-hygiene guidelines above doesn't leave you well rested, you may want to look into cognitive behavioral therapy, in which you learn to challenge, then change, your negative sleep-related thoughts, says Harris. Acupuncture, massage, meditation, or simply taking a series of slow, deep breaths before bed may also help soothe you into sleep. If your insomnia sticks around for more than three weeks, seek out a doctor who is trained in sleep medicine.   

© 2012 Rodale Inc. All rights reserved.

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