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Low cost sleep improvement

More ways to guard your health and attend to basic medical needs for very, very low cost.

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This page last updated on or about 10-17-04
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Getting sufficient quality and quantity of sleep is vital to good health, both physical and mental. Of course, this can often be tough to do under stressful and/or deprived circumstances, as well as for the elderly or those already ill, or parents of small children or infants.

-- How Much Sleep Is Enough?; ABC News

-- Heart disease in women tied to sleep habits; canada.com

-- Healthy sleep means a healthy heart; globeandmail.com

-- Poor sleep linked to earlier death in older adults; EurekAlert!; eurekalert.org


-- Essential fatty acids in motherís diet affect infantís sleep patterns; EurekAlert!; eurekalert.org

-- Sleep Well for Life; infoaging.org

-- A good night's sleep 'can help fight cancer'; ananova.com

-- Yahoo! News - Sound Slumber May Put Cancer to Rest; story.news.yahoo.com

-- Can sleeping more help you lose weight?; abcnews.go.com

-- How to rise and shine when you're nocturnal by nature; seattletimes.nwsource.com

Sleep in absolute darkness. Though there may be additional safety risks involved for some regarding stumbling around in the dark, and many kids afraid of the dark may be too terrified to do it, sleeping in total darkness appears to improve your health considerably over the longer term, compared to sleeping with a nightlight or TV on. Specifically, your immune system may function better. Perhaps keeping a fully charged flashlight handy on the nightstand would be helpful to mitigate the possible downsides of this practice.

-- Increase in childhood leukaemia may be part due to increased light at night; 8-Sep-2004; eurekalert.org; Contact: Josie Golden tina@tinapriceconsultants.com 44-20-7390-1567 Children With Leukaemia

If you're someone who often arises during the night for a snack or bathroom visit, or to check on your kids, keep in mind that dim room and hallway lighting will be less likely to interfere with you getting back to sleep a few minutes later, than brighter lighting.

Increase lighting contrasts. The more contrast in lighting your environment offers you between daytime activities and sleeping, (well-lit waking environments, very dark sleeping environments) generally the better and more restful your sleep will be. Sufficient daily exercise should also aid in getting a good night's sleep. On a good exercise day, this means a minimum of 30-60 minutes, wherein you're sweating for about 20-45 minutes of that. Of course, if you strain or hurt something, or get too severe a workout, those can create new and different sleep problems. Also avoid exercising in the hour or so immediately preceding sleep, as that's the time you should be slowing down and relaxing, rather than getting more stimulated.

Avoiding the drinking or eating of stimulating food and drink, especially soon before bedtime, should also help you rest. Coffee and soft drinks are generally not good items to drink just before bed, as they contain caffeine, a stimulant. Tea and chococlate too incorporate caffeine. Consumption of excessively large amounts of drink or food in the hours immediately preceding bedtime can also be detrimental to getting a good night's sleep.

In my own personal experience, like many others getting advanced in years, good quality sleep has become ever more elusive for me. For several years I almost completely eliminated caffeine from my diet, for many of the reasons which can be seen elsewhere on this page. But then recently I remembered that when I was younger, caffeine in something like a cup of coffee would often put me to sleep rather than wake me up. This of course was back in the days when I likely drank somewhere between four and seventeen cups a day of the stuff(!) But casting about recently for some way to improve my sleep, I decided to try adding a bit more caffeine back to my daily routine to see what happened. Amazingly, I'm now sleeping better! Still not as well or easily as I did 10-15 years ago, but considerably better than I was over the past several months. I'm now drinking maybe four to five cups of tea a day to get this fix, with my last cup maybe six hours or so before bedtime. Tea of course doesn't offer quite as much caffeine as the instant coffee I used to drink, and so isn't nearly as stimulating or addictive as coffee (read: it's easier to handle and cut back on if needed).

How to explain this seeming paradox? I don't know. Perhaps my body became 'acclimated' to caffeine over all those years of consumption, so it doesn't quite work right with too low a dose now. Maybe some other substance in the tea is doing this-- but when I substitute decaffeinated tea I lose the sleep improvements (I tried the decaff route BEFORE going with the caffeine re-introduction). Maybe without the caffeine I'm too relaxed all day, and so don't get sufficiently worn down to sleep well at night? This last seems unlikely though, based on my feelings of fatigue over the periods in question (they seem unchanged).

Note that the main effect of the additional caffeine seems to be longer periods of deep sleep; with only a slight effect on the ease by which I fall asleep in the first place. It also seems to help a bit on returning to sleep if and when I do awaken during the night.

10-17--04 UPDATE: Well, after some experimentation over months I've ended up with my caffeine intake regimen being three cups of coffee a day, one cup of green tea, and my daily dose of dark chocolate. This likely amounts to considerably more than the recommended maximum amount of caffeine per day, but it seems to help my sleep quite a bit. The tea simply wasn't providing enough caffeine for me. And getting inadequate sleep has its own enormous detrimental effects. END UPDATE.

Over-stimulation or irritation. You may discover over time that certain drinks or foods irritate your bladder or other internal organs, causing frequent bathroom trips during the night, or bouts of painful gas, both of which can interrupt your rest. Once you know what these are, you can avoid them as necessary.

Keeping a dated log, journal, or diary of daily perceptions of well-being or discomfort, along with notes about the types of food and drink taken that day, or other actions which may have affected your feelings of wellness, can be invaluable for learning precisely what things are helping or hurting you.

Conversely, some drinks or foods may have the opposite effect, being soothing, and so less likely to disrupt your sleep. For me personally, standard V-8 juice seems to be such a soothing substance (the main ingredient of V-8 juice looks to be tomato juice).

Another potential source of over-stimulation just before bed-time can be a very hot bath or cold shower. Temperature extremes in bathing just before bed may make it take longer for you to doze off afterwards. So shoot for more moderate temperatures for your water in such circumstances.

White noise. If you find environmental noises disturbing your sleep, you can try buying a 'white noise' machine, or sound effect appliance to lessen the impact of unwanted noise. Various sound effects of such devices include waves washing up on a shore, rainstorms, bubbling brooks, etc., etc. You can also simply use a relaxing classical music CD playing in an infinite loop during the night. Note that music without vocals might be best for such purposes.

If excessive stress is interfering with your sleep, note that the more time you spend in moderately rigorous exercise per day, the less such stress should impact your sleep.

Your own attitude or perspective regarding sleep can also be important. Those of us with families, work, and healthcare concerns, etc., can often find plenty to keep us awake at night. Especially as we get older, our minds can find it hard to shut down at sleep time, as we continue to fret on matters of that day and the next. Worries, fears, work overload-- lots of things can combine to make getting to sleep nearly impossible. Even for times when staying awake can accomplish exactly nothing.

However, if you do all the research, you'll find all sorts of reports which justify the following conclusion: Everything will be better if you just quit worrying tonight and go to sleep.

Virtually no matter your concerns, if you simply let them go and sleep tonight, you'll be far better able to address them tomorrow.

Why? How? You'll be smarter, for one thing. Being well rested improves learning, thinking, and memory powers. You'll be stronger and faster, too. For adequate rest is a major element involved in maintaining physical strength and endurance, as well as physical coordination. You'll be healthier and able to withstand more punishment of all sorts as well (if necessary), as sleep recharges the immune system and more.

I offer plenty of evidence for all this in various spots on this page and possibly others on site. So when you see and really understand the facts of all this, you may find it easier to 'switch off' at bedtime. Because almost no matter what tomorrow brings, a good sleep tonight will help you deal with it much better than you could otherwise.

You can also add to this the fact that in the vast majority of cases, by bedtime there's little or nothing else nearly as constructive you could do about your problems instead of sleeping. I.e., various shops, schools, offices, and workplaces are closed down, most of your friends, family, and co-workers are asleep and won't be answering the phone, etc., etc., etc.

There's also these tidbits: keep in mind that those of us who live in relatively quiet and secure neighborhoods and households in many nations have far, far less to worry about than poor folks living in huts in the African bush or various rural areas in Asia or Central or South America, where animal predators might occasionally come in and devour someone, or a revolution or coup might bring out roaming mobs of machete weilding maniacs. Plus, on the flip side of this is the insignificance of life in general in the whole scheme of things. Every once in a while it doesn't hurt to compare your own daily concerns with those of folks facing far worse travails, or with the mind-numbing immensity of the universe itself. We're each of us just one person among many thousands of thousands of thousands on this world; and our planet is just one of maybe millions much like it in our home galaxy. If we were immortal, we could get to the nearest neighboring solar system in maybe a few centuries of travel with technologies from just a few decades hence. To see the whole galaxy this way would require perhaps many billions of years-- longer than our own Earth or Sun have even existed.

And our galaxy is just one of hundreds of billions of galaxies in the universe.

Compared to geological time and distance and events just here on Earth, our entire lifespans and lifeworks don't even register as blips on the timeline-- unless you use a microscope. Zoom out to see the vastness of our galaxy, and you can't even find a blip representing all humanity itself. Zoom out to the scale of the universe, and even our entire galaxy is lost in the noise.

So go ahead and fall asleep. That will practically insure you an easier time tomorrow, no matter what. The wakeful alternative would amount to nothing more than a practical joke you've played on yourself.

OK, so you say switching off your mind at bedtime is less attitude-related, and more physical-stress induced?

One way to cope with excess stress is to perform deep-breathing relaxation exercises. Such practices are no replacement for regular physical exercise by any means, but can serve well to complement such exercise routines, and offer welcome contingency relief in certain circumstances. What do I mean when I say contingency relief? Well, even where such relaxation techniques do not allow you to actually fall asleep, they can still rest the body significantly, thereby offering you more endurance to face the coming day than you might otherwise enjoy. The downside of such exercises is that at worst they'll rest your body but not your mind. Plus, they require some time to perform, and some practice to get the most out of them.

I'll try to provide further details or reference links on how to actually perform such exercises in a future update. In the meantime, you might check out the results of this Google search.

Many folks may awaken for no discernible reason during the night, then find it difficult to return to sleep once more. Others may find it plain difficult to fall to sleep at all at bedtime. In both instances there's a few things you can try. One, if you just awakened and can recall a pleasant or interesting dream that was interrupted, try remembering that dream, and getting back into it, in a laid-back and relaxed way. Often this will lead to the sandman coming and taking you away lickety-split. Remembering past favorites among dreams can help you sometimes to fall asleep at the beginning of bed-time, too. Just ruminating about pleasant but boring scenarios can do the trick as well.

So what about awaking from cold-sweat nightmares? Often-times it'll be necessary to re-assure yourself as to your physical safety by getting up and checking the integrity of the room or house, or checking on family members, etc., before you can comfortably relax again. Indeed, on rare occasion there might actually be something dangerous happening in the area, and so you need to be awake to deal with it. But far more typically it'll all amount to no more than the bad dream itself. Sometimes it may be necessary to replace the dire thoughts in your head with something more mundane. Switching on a TV in the middle of the night in the USA circa 2004 will pretty soon bore you into unconsciousness-- just avoid any sort of frightening or anger-inspiring movies or shows at such times.

Note that there's things you can do during the day to lessen your worries at bed-time, such as installing smoke alarms in your home and changing their batteries annually; making sure you have adequate locks and latches on doors and windows, and checking their status before retiring nightly; making sure stoves, ovens, and other potentially dangerous fire or heat sources are switched off as wise before bed; installing automatic outdoors lighting around entryways and such (units are available that don't come on at all in daylight, but will snap on at night due to detection of sounds, motion, and/or body heat-- just keep in mind it's easy to have lights that are too sensitive, and are triggered constantly by normal breezes or you or your neighbors' pets making their nocturnal rounds); securing objects outdoors that make annoying rackets during the night, etc., etc., etc.

Cut out the junk. Speaking of bad dreams, many folks could likely increase their sleep quality by simply cutting out the junk from their TV and film viewing habits. Horror, slasher, and realistic monster shows should definitely not be viewed in the hours immediately preceding sleeptime by just about all age groups, but perhaps especially small children and those elderly already experiencing sleep problems due to their age.

Other TV fare that should be avoided is stuff which makes you angry or agitated. In circa 2004 America, this might include the more sensationalistic of the so-called 'news' channels, as several of them now care more about hooking the viewer with emotionally wrenching content of various sorts (largely scorching opinionated spin of various events) than actually providing news coverage.

As we get older our sleep cycles can unexpectedly change on us. Indeed, our first clue that such a change has occured may be consistently poor quality sleep while adhering to virtually the same sleep schedule we've held previously for years, or even decades, with no problem before. Note that for lots of folks TV and movie addiction may interfere greatly with such schedule changes. Late-night computer/internet use can pose similar problems. Ergo, you may have to make a conscious decision and utilize substantial self-discipline to wean yourself away from such temptations for the sake of your health and well-being. And remember, if you absolutely positively must have your late-night TV, there's numerous ways to record it automatically so that you can still watch it, only at more civilized hours.

-- An Unexpected Price For Turning On The Computer Late At Night For High Tech Excitement; the-aps.org

If we can't or won't adapt to these biological changes with conscious schedule changes, that can hurt our sleep too. For example, I've noticed that I'm needing to get to bed earlier now than I used to, and wake up earlier as well.

Resetting your biological clock. Of course, in some cases we may have little choice but to change our sleep schedules to synchronize to other factors beyond our control. Some examples might include working the 'graveyard shift', or extensive air travel. In such cases, possessing some means to manipulate our own body clock might come in handy. Plese see the references below for details.

-- Resistance exercise resets the body clock; eurekalert.org

If you find yourself too limited in the total amount of sleep you're getting, it might help to know what time range in the day/night cycle you're likely to get the best quality of sleep for time spent.

-- 'People getting a minimal amount of sleep do better if they go to bed early in the morning rather than late at night'; eurekalert.org

Sleep apnea/heavy snoring can be a terrible sleeping affliction; a friend of mine says dentists these days can help some sufferers with a custom made mouthpiece for sleeping (I'll try to provide more info on this in a future update; until then, perhaps you could ask your local dentist about this possibility, if necessary?). Other than that, the best remedy for many sufferers may be trying to lose weight, as excess weight seems to be a factor in some cases.

-- New oral appliance significantly aids obstructive sleep apnea patients in small study ; eurekalert.org

I also know of folks who've obtained gadgets which pressurize their breathing air during sleep to prevent their throat closing up on them. Basically they must wear something like a gas mask during the night, and faithfully perform routine maintenance on their little compressor gadget every day. But it seems to work well for at least some folks.

Avoid daytime naps and lying around. If you're having trouble sleeping through the night, then try avoiding daytime naps, as well as spending too much time during daylight hours sitting or lying prone in bed watching TV or whatever.

Become more of a dreamer. One thing which might help those who take a long time to get to sleep in the first place, and/or also wake up frequently during the night and have difficulty returning to sleep again, is more daydreams and fantasies in their lives. YIKES! Did you read that correctly? Yes. It turns out folks who fantasize and daydream a lot face a weaker threshold between wakefulness and unconsciousness than others-- and this makes them able to pass over that threshold more quickly and easily.

-- People Prone To Fantasy Remember More Dreams; June 24, 2003; thebostonchannel.com

Of course, there can also be a few downsides to the fantasy/daydreaming aspect. For instance, there's times you want the threshold between sleep and wakefulness to be high or strong, as when you're driving down the highway. Plus, being more of a daydreamer might also interfere at times with your work and other responsibilities. So be careful how you balance this particular aspect of your consciousness!

Check your medicines. Sometimes prescription medicines may be to blame for sleep problems, and you may need to discuss possible changes with your doctor.

Another topic of enormous importance to adequate sleep is your usual work schedule. Believe it or not, what 'shift' you normally work in your place of employment could literally be a life and death issue for many of us. Why? Because research shows our biological clocks can be put out of whack by work schedules which go too far in distorting our natural cycles of work and rest. The very worst offender? The 'graveyard' shift. Turns out it's very aptly named.

-- Study finds higher cancer rates among night shift workers; startribune.com

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The above article(s) come from and make references to a collection copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 1997, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004 by J.R. Mooneyham (except where otherwise noted in the text). Text here explicitly authored by J.R. Mooneyham may be freely copied and distributed for non-commercial purposes in paper and electronic form without charge if this copyright paragraph and link to jmooneyham.com or jrmooneyham.com are included.

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