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Health Chat: Sleep, The Dormant Panacea

Why and How to Get A Good Night’s Sleep

You no doubt are familiar with recent findings that we all need seven to eight hours sleep a night. Sure, some people can get by on as little of four hours of shut-eye, but at what cost to their sex lives, memory, health, aging, and vitality, not to mention their weight? More critically, a British study revealed that lack of sleep doubled the risk of death from cardiovascular disease.


As we age, we tend to need less sleep. Infants, for example, typically need 16 hours of sleep daily; teens require about nine hours, and people over 65 sleep even less, yet still need seven to eight hours.


Getting enough quality sleep is essential to staying healthy, aging well, and having the stamina to make it through the day. But getting adequate sleep becomes more difficult as we age. Here are some steps to help you overcome sleep difficulties, including insomnia:


  1. Maintain consistent sleep routines. Turn in at the same time each night and wake up at the same time each morning. A set sleep schedule “trains”  you to fall asleep and wake up more easily and better rested.
  2. Use your bed only for sleep and sex. No lying in bed watching TV, reading, or using your iPad or laptop.
  3. Cut down on caffeine, particularly later in the day. For some, one cup of coffee in the afternoon means a sleepless night. Caffeine can also increase the need to urinate during the night.
  4. Exercise. Daily walks, runs or swims provide three sleep benefits: you fall asleep faster, attain a higher percentage of restorative, deep sleep, and awaken less often.
  5. Avoid after dinner-naps as well as long afternoon naps. Napping can disrupt your natural sleep cycle and prevent you from feeling tired enough to fall asleep at night.
  6. Don’t smoke before bedtime. Nicotine is a potent drug that speeds your heart rate, raises blood pressure, and stimulates brainwave activity that produces wakefulness.
  7. Beware of alcohol. A glass of wine, a bottle of beer or a mixed drink may help you fall asleep, but this effect dissipates after a few hours. Beyond which, alcohol suppresses REM sleep and may lead to restless  sleep and waking up throughout the night.
  8. Create an ideal sleeping environment. Remove electronic devices, exercise equipment  and other items that may suggest that the bedroom is meant for anything other than sleeping. And do what you can to ensure that the room is quiet, dark, and relatively cool. Also, get yourself a comfortable mattress.
  9. Don’t just lie there. If you haven’t fallen asleep after about 20 minutes in bed, get up, go into another room, and meditate or read for awhile to relax. Otherwise, you are likely to become anxious about not falling asleep and you will spend even more time tossing and turning.
  10. Avoid sleeping pills. They can become habit forming. If you take sleep medicine, talk to your doctor about how to use it effectively and for only a limited time. Instead of medication, consider natural sleep aids such as herbs or sleep-inducing foods.


The body needs rest, both to recover and regain strength after the day’s physical activities, and to recharge the mind after you’ve been thinking all day—particularly following challenging mental tasks. Periodically being passive, taking in your surroundings without reacting, and simply doing nothing are valuable and necessary for optimum health. All of which is facilitated during restful sleep.


Dreaming is a vital component of sleep. A study at the University of Pennsylvania found that subjects limited to four or five hours sleep per night felt more stressed, angry and sad. When they resumed normal sleep habits, their moods improved dramatically.


What is it about sleep that's so important to emotional health? As it turns out, mood disorders are strongly linked to abnormal patterns of dreaming. Conversely, dream researchers at Chicago's Rush Medical Center have found that people who dream—and remember those dreams—heal more quickly from depressed moods following emotional hardships.


Unfortunately, many prescription medications, including sleep aids and antidepressants, suppress dreaming. To promote active dreaming, it may be a good idea to keep a dream journal at your bedside, which will help you develop the habit of recalling your dreams upon waking.


The right temperature—typically a bit on the cool side—can help with sleep quality. Sleep can be disrupted by temperatures anywhere below 18 or above 24 degrees. For most, the ideal temperature for sound sleep is about 21 degrees. Unfortunately for us here in Pattaya’s year-round hot climate, heat interferes with sleep more than cold does. If unable to adjust your bedroom temperature, there are some things you can try:


  • Take a cool shower before going to bed.
  • Keep a bottle of ice water on your nightstand; a few sips can help cool you down.
  • Place a cool, wet towel on your forehead. Heat tends to leave your  body through your head, and a wet towel can speed up heat loss.
  • Use a thin sheet, even if it’s very warm. Most people need some tactile sensation to help them relax.