by Wissam Chatila, M.D.
Sleep. We all need it, but how well do we understand it? Here are 10 answers to must-know and just-plain-interesting questions about that mysterious thing you do every night.
1. How can I get a better night's sleep?
- Keep a regular sleep schedule.
- Avoid caffeinated beverages, particularly late in the evening.
- Try not to take your worries to the bedroom.
- Make a habit of unwinding, and avoid stressors as bedtime approaches (often easier said than done, granted).
- Keep your sleeping environment as comfortable and quiet as possible.
Get Dr. Hubbard's "Top-10 Best Sleep Habits" here.
2. How often can I take a sleeping pill without getting addicted?
It depends on the kind you’re taking and the reason you’re taking it. In general, taking a sleeping pill for few days should not be a major issue or cause addiction. But it’s always better to figure out the reasons you’re having trouble sleeping. Don’t just treat the insomnia; locate its root causes and treat them as well.
Learn more about sleeping-pill safety in our interview with sleep specialist Jim Krainson, M.D.
3. Is there any sleeping pill that's not addictive?
Yes, although it's always best to monitor your usage and talk frequently with your physician. The newer prescription drugs, including Ambien, Lunesta and Sonata, are less likely to be addictive. In addition, some antidepressants are sometimes used in low doses as sleep aids.
4. Is it more healthy to go to bed early and get up early than vice versa?
It’s best to listen to your body. Light influences your circadian rhythm (biological clock), making the pressure to sleep strongest a few hours after sunset. You can, however, adapt to staying up later by doing such things as extending the light exposure, drinking caffeinated beverages and socializing. If you can’t go to bed when your body tells you to, at least getting enough sleep (seven to eight hours for most people) should help keep you healthy.
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5. If I don’t get enough sleep regularly, will that affect my health?
Certainly—in a number of ways. Most importantly, in the short-term, it causes a decline in psychomotor performance, or how well you handle physical tasks. Hence, your risk of having an automobile accident goes up when you haven’t had enough sleep. In the long term, not getting adequate sleep adds significant stresses on the body. Some studies have even demonstrated a shorter lifespan for those who sleep less than what they need.
6. What about just a couple of late nights?
Sleep deprivation for a night or two shouldn’t cause major adverse health effects. But keep in mind that every day you miss sleep, the following day you can expect a decline in your performance. So, for sensitive tasks, you need to get a good night’s sleep the night before.
7. Is eating a lot right before I go to sleep a bad idea?
A heavy meal can disrupt the sleep pattern. Remember, people need room to breath well during sleep, and a full stomach can certainly impinge on the chest.
8. Why do we get dark circles under our eyes when we don’t sleep?
Although dark circles are common, the causes have not been well studied. Hormones; skin discoloration; a pale face; and fatigued, droopy eyelids are all potential causes.
Board-certified pulmonologist and sleep specialist WISSAM CHATILA, M.D., is co-director of Temple University Hospital's Sleep Disorders Center.
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Last updated and/or approved: March 2011. Original article appeared in previous issues of the former print magazine. Bios current as of those issues. This general health-care information is not meant as individual advice. Please see our disclaimer.