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Getting the Sleep You Need

by David Spero, RN

Get comfortable
Some people can sleep anywhere. Most of us need a quiet, safe, dark room. If you can’t get such a room, a blindfold and/or ear plugs might help. A “white noise generator,” a fan, or a tape of nature sounds can block unwanted noise. Use curtains or shades to block outdoor lights and morning light if it wakes you.

Get a comfortable mattress. Most people can sleep on any decent mattress. You probably don’t need to toss out your current one and spend tons of money on the most expensive model, but mattresses were not designed to last a lifetime, so you will need to replace them every so often. Pillows should also be comfortable. Thinner pillows may give better posture and more comfortable sleep to people who sleep on their backs, while people who sleep on their sides may need thicker pillows for more neck support. Some people like a pillow or bolster behind them when they sleep on their sides, or a pillow under their feet or between their knees to reduce back strain.

Temperature can also be a factor. An overactive radiator could have you waking up in a sweat, so be sure to set your thermostat appropriately.

The pros and cons of naps
Napping may leave you less tired at bedtime, setting the stage for insomnia. Some experts, including Dr. Bootzin, have a strict rule: No naps! Others are more flexible, but the National Sleep Foundation suggests limiting a nap to no more than 20–30 minutes, while the American Academy of Sleep Medicine says a nap should be less than an hour and no later than 3 PM. Long naps should be avoided if you have insomnia.

Studies on the health effects of naps have given conflicting results. But for some, napping can be a healing break from the stresses of the day. In a review of the medical literature, Masaya Takahasi, DMSc, of Japan’s National Institute of Industrial Health, found several studies that indicate that short naps (less than 20 minutes) may be linked to a reduction in the risk of heart disease.

Keep a sleep diary
Since so many things can hinder or promote sleep, many people find it helpful to keep a sleep diary to figure out what’s keeping them up or what works best to help them sleep. (This sample “Sleep Log” gives one format for keeping such a diary.) Each morning, write down when you went to bed, about how long it took to go to sleep (but don’t watch the clock for an exact time; clock-watching can keep you up), about how many times you recall waking up, when you got up, and how rested you feel. Record any naps you took the day before. Also rate your energy level and alertness during the day on a scale of 1 to 10.

Finally, write down what else happened. You won’t be able to record everything, so focus on three or four issues at a time. (Some people keep a separate “day log” for this.) Perhaps start with caffeine, nicotine, alcohol intake, and medicines. Record your bedtime ritual. Other possible issues to monitor: watching TV, exercise, family or work hassles, or anything else that may bother you. Over a couple of weeks, you might discover what helps you sleep and what gets in the way.

When to see a doctor
If none of this works, if you keep waking up all night, or if you have trouble waking up in the morning or staying alert during the day, you may want to consult a sleep specialist. You may have a treatable medical condition such as sleep apnea, or you may need help overcoming years of bad habits. Learning how to get a good night’s sleep can make a difference in your blood glucose control and your quality of life. As Dr. Buda says, “Sleeping better means living better.” And it’s not that hard to learn. Get started, and sweet dreams!

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Also in this article:
Sleep Resources
for Sample Sleep Log



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