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Harvard Commentaries
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Harvard Commentaries
Reviewed by the Faculty of Harvard Medical School


How To Get A Good Night's Sleep


June 23, 2014

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How To Get A Good Night's Sleep
How To Get A Good Night's Sleep
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Medications aren't always the answer. Here are some simple lifestyle strategies.
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InteliHealth
2011-08-31
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InteliHealth Medical Content
2014-08-31

Reviewed by the Faculty of Harvard Medical School

How To Get A Good Night's Sleep

Medications aren't always the best solution for insomnia. Some simple lifestyle strategies may help:

  • Stay on schedule. Go to bed and get up around the same time every day. The body's natural sleep-wake patterns, called circadian rhythms, can be disrupted by abrupt schedule swings. Maintaining a regular bedtime schedule helps train the body to sleep at the desired time.
  • Make your bed a resting place, not a media center. Go to bed when you're tired, but if you find you can't sleep, get out of bed. Go into another room and watch television or read a book. When you're truly sleepy, go back to bed.
  • Choose the right soundtrack. Use a fan or a white-noise generator in the bedroom to create a soothing sound and help mask other noises.
  • Cut back on caffeine and alcohol. Don't drink anything caffeinated after lunchtime. Avoid alcohol late in the evening, or give it up entirely for a while. Even though alcohol acts as a sedative, it disrupts normal sleep patterns and causes awakenings later during the night.
  • See the light. Properly timed light exposure can shift the body's sleep-wake cycle. People who wake up earlier than they'd like should minimize morning light with heavy curtains or comfortable eyeshades and maximize their exposure to bright light in the evening before bedtime. People who have trouble falling asleep at bedtime and then tend to oversleep in the morning can shift their rhythms earlier with the reverse strategy.
  • Try warm milk at bedtime.This old advice does seem to help some people. The effect may be strictly psychological — but so what, if it works? There also may be a physiological explanation: The warm beverage may temporarily increase the core body temperature, and the subsequent temperature drop may hasten sleep.
  • Check your medications. Many medications can cause insomnia, so ask your doctor or pharmacist about all the drugs you take. For example, the decongestants that many people take at bedtime can have a stimulating effect.
  • Don't self-medicate. There's little evidence that supplements and other over-the-counter "sleep aids" are effective. In some cases, there are safety concerns. Antihistamine sleep aids, in particular, have a long duration of action and can cause daytime drowsiness.

 

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