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Night Shift: Take Control of Your Sleep

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You snooze, you lose? No—you win.

A good night’s slumber makes us mentally crisp. But that’s not all.

“Sleep is incredibly important,” says Jean Ghosn, MD, family medicine physician at Memorial Hermann Medical Group Needville. “It regenerates our brain, muscles, bone and even cells from the wear-and-tear of daily activities, including walking and eating.”

The younger you are, the more sleep you need, he says. Children need 12 hours, teens 9-11 hours and adults of all ages 7-9 hours. “It’s a myth that the older you are, the less you need. The truth is you may be depriving yourself of essential slumber.”

If you’ve ever slogged through the day exhausted, you know the toll of insomnia: poor work and academic performance, an inability to concentrate and crankiness.

Excessive caffeine and sweet treats spike your energy, but then it crashes.

So where did you go wrong? “To get better sleep, it’s important to define why you can’t sleep,” Dr. Ghosn says. “Are you having a hard time falling asleep, staying asleep or waking up too early?”

The Challenge: Falling Asleep
Exercise is great, but like eating and screen time, it should end two to three hours before bedtime, he says. “Often we watch TV till the last minute—and that doesn’t work. We should wind down.”

Cut off caffeine mid-afternoon to curtail an over-stimulated central nervous system. And don’t imbibe alcohol in the final four hours before bedtime.

“It’s a myth that alcohol helps you fall asleep,” Dr. Ghosn says. “Also, the quality of sleep you get is not restorative.” Plus, booze is a diuretic, leading to overnight potty breaks.

Where we are active also matters: “We need to clean up our bedtime act. How we behave in the bedroom affects how well we sleep,” says Dr. Ghosn.

He believes the bed should be used for sleep and intimacy but not working, eating, reading, TV watching or social media surfing.

“Bright lights trigger pathways in our brain that inhibit our ability to fall asleep,” Dr. Ghosn says. “You also want to associate your bed with slumber, not activity.”

Remove stimuli from the bedroom, and at least 30 minutes before bedtime, power down devices that delay dozing, he says.

You can lull yourself to dreamland with progressive muscle relaxation or meditation. You should focus on a phrase, image or your breath, noting each inhalation and exhalation. Repeat until you nod off.

Your bedroom should be dark, tranquil and at a comfortable temperature.

The Challenge: Staying Asleep
A bedroom buzzsaw—your partner’s snoring or your own—can raise a ruckus that wrecks slumber. So can other health issues, such as frequent urination or depression and anxiety.

“If you’re not sleeping well consistently, you need to see your physician,” Dr. Ghosn says.

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