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Rest easy! Tips, products for a better night’s sleep

Counting more sheep than you should?  Dr. Michael Breus, author of "Beauty Sleep," makes sense of your nighttime troubles, recommends the best sleep-friendly foods and products and explains how to create the ideal rest environment.

Counting more sheep than you should?  Dr. Michael Breus, author of "Beauty Sleep: Look Younger, Lose Weight, and Feel Great Through Better Sleep," explains how to create the ideal rest environment and get better ZZZs with the right foods and products. Read an excerpt:

An in-depth consideration of the five senses is a great way to evaluate your sleep and create the ideal sleep environment.

SightWhat we see significantly affects how our other senses process information and respond. Sight directly affects your biological clock telling you what time to sleep and what time to wake. In other words, what you see (both in content and brightness) can re-set your biological clock and mean the difference between being blissfully asleep at 3 a.m. or wide awake staring at the clock.

Here is what I want you to do:

  • Strategically arrange the bedroom furniture around any incoming light and noise.
  • Replace high-wattage bulbs with low-wattage bulbs. Replace your switchers with “dimmers.” Aim to reduce the total “time-for-bed” wattage in your bedroom to 45 watts or less.  
  • Make sure your windows are covered. Consider blackout shades or heavy drapes to cover windows. These can also dampen sounds. Don’t forget to use a drape clip, which will securely close the two sides of the drapery. (Try starting out by using a “chip clip,” which work great.)
  • Have a reading lamp or book light available for the one who wants to read before going to bed. (I like the itty-bitty book light, but you’ll find many to choose from. Go with what you like.)
  • Use night lights for hallways and bathrooms. These should be emit low-level ambient light and be placed along a pathway to the target restroom.
  • Keep eye shades in your bedside table. There are about 20 different kinds on the market.

SoundSound rings in as the second most important variable to creating a sound sleep environment because you can hear in your sleep, and some noises will keep you out of deep sleep.

  • Consider music: nature and ocean sounds can help with relaxation and sleep.
  • Consider a relaxation CD (you can download my personal favorite at my site, for free when you register for my newsletter)
  • Consider white noise machines. Some companies specialize in “sound conditioners” that drown out noise. Or you can use the old trick of setting your radio between stations and keeping the volume low to create your own!
  • Consider ear plugs.
  • Consider a system for the television and any other device emitting sound. Earphones, pillow speakers, and a TV timer (for both light and noise) are options.

TouchHow you feel physically while in the comforts (hopefully) of your bedroom has a major influence on your ability to sleep well.

Pillow Talk: Shopping for the perfect pillow is intimidating; any single store will carry dozens of brands with their own labels and fancy names. Pillows come in all shapes, sizes, and fillers. Let’s review the main filler options, which is the first decision you have to make.

A pillow may last anywhere from 12 months to 18 months. And you get what you pay for. Think how much you spend on other items you use every day, like clothes and accessories. If you have a suit that you wear 12 hours a day, four days a week and it lasts three years, that’s 7,200 hours of use. Your pillow is used every night, for about 8 hours = 2,920 hours per year. Don’t underestimate the overall value of a good pillow. Spend wisely.

I have developed a quiz at that you can take that tells you which is the best pillow for you.

Your olfactory system (sense of smell) is one of the most influential sensory parts of the body. Does Aroma Therapy really work? Actually it does:

To date the research on Aromatherapy and sleep tells us a few things: first that generally speaking you do not just sniff something and pass out (unless it is ether, or something like that!) aroma therapy provides a relaxation response thus allowing your body to relax enough to go to sleep. As for the sleep itself there are a few studies looking specifically at Lavender (also known to decrease heart rate and blood pressure):One Study out of Korea showed that the length of time taken to fall asleep, severity of insomnia and self satisfaction with sleep improved- the study was not specific in terms of what exactly improvement meant.In one study Lavender increased slow wave  aka “deep sleep”  in the first part of the night, which is when you get the most deep sleep and when growth hormone is emitted by the hypothalamus-this is important to weight loss, and how you look! The study also found that people do not wake up as often, it takes a shorter time to get to deep sleep and to REM sleep. Another study showed that “relaxing odors” showed a decrease in heart rate.

The effects of various foods on individuals vary greatly due to how sensitive a person is to substances in the food, the time of day one eats, other dietary factors, medical conditions, medications, exercise, bedtime, stress levels, and other factors.

Although there is no doubt that foods affect the quality of our sleep, convincing clinical studies on how specific foods and substances affect sleep are often hard to come by. That said, certain foods do have sleep-friendly effects, while others have ones that can keep you awake. And the time of day you eat certain foods can impact your sleep.

Eating a healthy diet goes a long way toward sleeping well. If you eat well, you can sleep well. Sleep-friendly foods may help you relax and fall asleep, but don’t view them as "sleeping pills." All the sleep-friendly foods in the world won’t help much if you are working until midnight, chugging coffee, and your mind is racing about the next day’s work.

Foods that, as part of a healthy diet and lifestyle, help promote sleep may include tuna, halibut, pumpkin, artichokes, avocados, almonds, eggs, bok choy, peaches, walnuts, apricots, oats, asparagus, potatoes, buckwheat, and bananas. They contain generous supplies of the vitamins, minerals, fats, and proteins necessary for proper functioning of our nervous, muscular, metabolic, skeletal, and hormonal systems. Important nutrients include calcium, magnesium, selenium, zinc, omega fatty acids, amino acids to build proteins, vitamins C, E, and B-complex, and iron (especially for premenopausal women).

  • By curbing your hunger, a light snack may allow you to fall asleep more easily. Carbohydrates and dairy products have been shown to help decrease the time it takes to fall asleep.
  • Tryptophan is a building block of serotonin, which has been shown to have a calming effect on the brain and help regulate sleep. Tryptophan is absorbed best when eaten with carbohydrates and without other proteins in the stomach.

...And sleep-unfriendly
Caffeine is a stimulant and can keep you awake. Cutting out caffeine at least four to six hours before bedtime can help you fall asleep more easily. It can stay in your body longer than you may think -- up to 14 hours. So if you drink a cup of coffee at noon and are still awake at midnight, that may be the reason. But watch out -- if you usually consume large amounts of caffeine and cut yourself off too quickly, you may get headaches that also could keep you awake. Caffeine is present in:

1. Beverages like coffee (100-200 mg), tea (50-75 mg), soda (50-75 mg)

2. Frozen coffee deserts (8-85 mg)

3. Prescription and over-the-counter medications cold remedies, diuretics, stimulants, and weight loss products, such as like extra strength Excedrin (two tablets, 130 mg), Dexatrim (200 mg), Vanquish (33 mg), Dristan (one tablet, 30 mg)

4. What about chocolate?! Gotcha. Many people think chocolate is high in caffeine. Actually it’s not; milk chocolate and chocolate milk have only about 5-6 mg of caffeine per serving. That’s a 1-ounce serving for chocolate and 8 ounces for chocolate milk.

A tip about caffeine consumption: Although many people do not abuse caffeine, its use can be insidious: Say you drink some coffee or tea in the morning, a couple of sodas during the day, some more tea or coffee after dinner. You may well have enough caffeine to keep you awake and disturb your sleep.

Now what happens the next morning? You wake up tired, so what do you do? Brew up some more coffee, of course, and start all over again. It’s a vicious cycle. When you wake up tired, you should actually CUT caffeine, not increase it. We should note that caffeine use, in and of itself, is not a bad thing and has been shown to have some positive effects.

Nicotine: Although not a food per se, nicotine is ingested and associated with eating and drinking. Having a smoke before bed — although it feels relaxing — actually puts a stimulant into your bloodstream. The effects of nicotine are similar to those of caffeine. Nicotine can keep you up and awaken you at night; it can stay in your body as long as 14 hours. It should be avoided particularly near bedtime and if you wake up in the middle of the night.

Alcohol: Alcohol is a depressant. Although it may help you fall asleep, as your body clears it from your system while you are sleeping, you have a withdrawal that can cause symptoms like nightmares, sweats, and headache. Try drinking one glass of water for every alcoholic beverage to try to reduce these effects.

Listing of products for sleep that I really like:

ConsumablesDreamerz: this is an all natural sleep beverage that helps you relax and fall asleep, using trace amounts of Melatonin and a concentrated substance called Lactium which has been shown in clinical research to help relax you before bed.

Carpenter Company makes some of the best pillows I have seen. Look for the “Sleep Better” seal on their products to help identify them. To get started choosing a Carpenter Pillow, try taking their wonderful “Zzzz Score” quiz to help you determine which one is best for you. Here are a few I’ve tried:

The Beyond PerfectA 2 sided Visco-Foam/Hypoallergenic synthetic down pillow - the one I use. I like it for back sleepers, stomach sleepers, and those who don’t want to roll around.

The Ambient ComfortA pillow using nanotechnology to take the ambient energy in the air and re-purpose it when you lie on it. This pillow has been shown to help increase blood oxygen levels significantly. The fabric was originally used for diabetics, in special socks designed to promote blood circulation.

The Beyond Down Side SleeperAs the name says, it’s great for side sleepers. This pillow is a pure synthetic down, so there are no allergy issues.

All of these pillows can be found at most JC Penny’s, Gottschalks, Herberger’s, Kohl’s, Bed Bath and Beyond, Stein Mart and Belk department stores.

Ogallala also produces a good luxury high end pillow.

They use a material called HypoDown, which wicks away moisture, is lightweight, and is hypoallergenic. It’s made with real goose down, but uses a Syriaca Cluster, which is almost like corn silk, for a wonderful, comfortable feel.

These pillows come in 3 different fill powers: 800, 700,and 600, which denote firmness.

AromatherapyBath and Body Works is head and shoulders above everyone. I have looked into their quality specifications, their products, and what they are trying to do, and I really like them.

Their Soak and Sleep Kit is quite good. The quality of the aromatherapy is very high, and there is good clinical research to show that a warm bath before bed can help promote sleep by raising one’s core body temperature.

The Pillow Mist is one of the best and safest ways to use aromatherapy. I prefer Lavender.

The Home Fragrance Oil is a potent relaxant. (Try Lavender Vanilla.)

The Scent Port is also nice, and allows for variety — you can add Lavender or Lavender Vanilla, plug it in, and enjoy the fragrance before bed, to help relax you.

Mattress RetailersMattress FirmI am aware of no other company that is as concerned with teaching consumers about what they really need rather than just “going for the sale”. I am really impressed with them. They sell many different brands.

Mattress Toppers
Looking at Consumer Reports, they tested 7 different toppers and decided that the choice is largely subjective. They picked the Spa Sensations 1.5-inch at $70.00, which I cannot say I have tried, but it sounds reasonable.

The products I like are made again by Carpenter:

The Comfort Coil antimocrobial mattress pad has 5 separate zones of support.

The Dream Coil mattress pads are made from a substance called Omalon® foam. Carpenter claims that this pad had a “patented process guaranteeing the mattress pad will never go flat.”

Warnings about mattress toppers: Make sure your sheets will still fit with a topper. Price does not seem to be a good correlation for comfort. (I have seen some that at $800+ are not comfortable.) Odor can be an issue. Wash them frequently according to the instructions provided. Pajamas

If you experience hot flashes or night sweats, I recommend Wildbleu’s moisture wicking pajamas. They use a patented Heat Release Technology™ (HRT) that dries four times faster than cotton. The products are comfortable, wash well and work great.

SheetsEveryone should know about the Thread Count Myth.

Many retailers are claiming high thread count equals high comfort and durability. This is simply not true.

You cannot get more than 500 threads in a square inch of fabric - and in truth, with anything above 400 it’s almost impossible to tell the difference.

Another important consideration is the material used: cotton, polyester, cotton-poly blend, satin, silk, cashmere — the list goes on and on.

When shopping for sheets, this is what I advise:

Do not go over 450 threads. Try to get a cotton/silk blend. Look at the sateen sheets - they feel great and seem to hold up well. Wicking Sheets

Moisture wicking sheets by Wildbleu are great for hot flashes, night sweats, and for “sleeping cool” in general. They use the same patented Heat Release Technology™ (HRT) that is used in their pajamas and night clothes.

Book LightsI like The LightWedge. This is one of the best book lights I have seen. It illuminates the entire page, it’s lightweight, it’s easy to carry, and they even have one for night vision when trying to read a map in a car.

Sound MachinesIn my opinion, Marpac makes one of the best sound machines on the market. They have two in particular that I like.

The SleepMate is a white noise generator.

The Marsona provides a choice of several base sounds and a section of sound overlays.

In addition, Homedics makes a good, affordable model called the Sound Spa, which offers 6 different sounds and is compact and lightweight.

Lastly, Brookstone carries The Tranquil Moments Sound Therapy System - a great product with many alternative sounds.

Eye Masks
My favorite is one from Sharper Image called the Heat-Sensitive Foam Sleep Mask – it has velvet on both sides (in some cases one may prefer satin), and the design molds to your face, blocking out all ambient light without touching your lashes. The Velcro band also makes it adjustable.

Another great maker of eye masks is Dream Essentials.

Their Escape™ Sleep Mask features an interior eye chamber to ensure absolutely no pressure on the eyes. Very comfortable, and great for women who nap on planes, as the eye chamber design helps preserve make-up under the mask.

For more information on mattresses, sheets, how to set up your bedroom, herbal supplements and more check out " by Dr. Michael Breus, the sleep doctor.