Student Health Center

Healthy You @ RSUNovember 2008

Tips for Sleeping Soundly!

How can you tell if you have a sleep problem?

It really isn’t so much about how long it takes you to get to sleep or how often you wake during the night as it is about feeling good and productive during the day.  If you are feeling tired every day, then you probably have some kind of a sleep problem.  The National Sleep Foundation published their annual study of sleep habits in America and noted that 28% of high school students fall asleep in school and another 14% fall asleep doing homework.

When you are not feeling alert and “with it” during the day (even when you think you are getting enough rest) you probably have a problem getting quality sleep.  If it persists over a period of weeks, then it is time to consult your primary care physician.

What are some of the reasons people have a hard time going to sleep?

Stress is one of the biggest reasons for having trouble getting to sleep.  Many people have an “overactive mind” that takes over when they lie down to sleep.  They review lists of things that they forgot to do during the day, worry about bills, external events, and generally have a hard time winding down from the stress of their day.  That’s why we created zYoga, the Yoga Sleep Ritual, a product that helps release stress for the neurological system (including the brain) through calming yoga asanas.

Does eating a late snack keep you awake?  What’s the impact of room temperature?

Eating too close to bed time can cause you to have trouble falling asleep.  You have just stimulated your digestive system, making it harder to relax into Stage One sleep.  Even eating highly spicy foods at dinner can make it harder for the digestive system to do its work and impact your ability to sleep.

Room temperature is important since it is hard to sleep if you are uncomfortable.  During the recent heat wave, it was hard for many people to sleep because night temperatures remained high.  In order to get quality sleep you need to be comfortable, not too cold or too hot.  Your body temperature drops during sleep so it is also important to have a blanket or coverlet to reach for if you wake up in the middle of the night. 

What physical conditions cause you to lose sleep?  When should you see a doctor and what kinds of tests are used to diagnose sleep problems?

There are many physical conditions that can impact sleep.  One of the most frequent is sleep apnea, a condition in which the sleeper stops breathing repeatedly during sleep.  This makes the person feel sluggish and fatigued during the day and in some cases can be fatal. 

The most common diagnostic test to look for sleep disorders is a sleep diary.  In this diary, the patient keeps track of how much sleep they get each night, the time they went to bed, the time the arise and other pertinent information.  By looking at this pattern, the doctor can draw some conclusions regarding the patient’s sleep patterns. 

However, to get a more detailed profile, the patient is connected to an instrument that measures brain wave -- the electrical impulses that are created by chemical changes in the brain.  His brain wave patterns are recorded over night as he sleeps in the diagnosis center.  Then the doctor looks at the record for abnormal activity that helps identify the disorder.

Another cause of poor sleep can be interactions of various medications that have been prescribed for the patient.  Physicians should be aware of the drugs a patient is taking and the patient should be assertive about telling the doctor about any sleep problems.  Too often, the physician does not ask about the patient’s sleep and the patient neglects to let the doctor know they are having trouble feeling rested.

Is you have a genuine medical reason for losing sleep, is there something you can do for it short of taking sleeping pills?

Yes, there are a number of things you can do:  Make sure your sleep environment is supportive of a great night’s sleep by making it comfortable, dark, and quiet. Move computers, TVs and other electronic distractions into another room.  Stick to a routine and try to go to bed at the same time every night.  Soon the body learns that that time is a cue to sleep.  Eliminate caffeine, stop smoking, and don’t drink alcohol before bed.  Give yourself time to wind down, perhaps take a soothing bath, stretch or read a book.  Don’t engage in stimulating or stressful activities (like paying bills or watching late night news).  These are some of the components of ‘sleep hygiene’ that contribute to getting a better night’s sleep.

If the problem is not medical, what are some of the things a person can do besides taking over-the-counter sleeping pills to make sleep easier?

Again, the sleep hygiene examples given above will help.  Sleep music like Sleep Garden’s zMusic or progressive relaxation like zYoga Lullaby, also from Sleep Garden, can lead you in a relaxing process that culminates in Stage One sleep (the entryway to full sleep) in most people in less than 15 minutes.

Is it bad to leave the TV on if you’re trying to get to sleep?

Generally, the answer to that is yes, it’s not a good idea.  However, some people have become habituated to falling asleep with the TV on.  The TV tube flickering can be disruptive to the sleep process.  We recommend zMovie, a video experience that uses the music bed of zMusic and video of the Pacific Ocean modified to become slower and darker (less flickering) over the duration of the video.  As seen on American Airlines, zMovie lets those who have gotten used to TV as background for sleep induction to wean themselves off of traditional TV.  ZMovie gives the user a far better sleep experience.

Does counting sheep work?

Whether its sheep or muskrats, it probably works because it shuts out other thoughts, focuses your attention on a simple, repetitive task and lets the mind wind down.  Yes, it does work for those who can focus on sheep (or muskrats) but it’s not effective for those who have a higher stress level.  ZMusic meets the mind at its functioning level of activity and then gently drops it down, level by level, from beta brain wave to theta, the opening to Stage One sleep.  Since we all have known how to sleep since birth, the body takes over at that point and does the rest.

What OTC products can help you get a good night’s sleep if your problem is temporary?

Like prescription medications, OTC products are chemical interventions.  And some of them can be helpful if, for example, you are crossing time zones.  However, we encourage people to learn to change their state of consciousness without drugs.  That is why Sleep Garden, Inc. is such an advocate of safe, non-drug, non-ingestible sleep solutions.  We believe you can work to retrain your mind and body to do what it did when you were a child, get a deep night of restorative sleep.

Do most people have trouble getting to sleep?  What is the relationship between losing sleep and age?  Do you need less sleep as you get older?  Do women have more problems falling asleep than men?

First, experts estimate that over 70 million Americans have trouble getting to sleep.  Some portion of these (about 10%), have physical issues such as sleep apnea.  But most have stress-induced insomnia.  Even kids report more and more sleep deprivation.  Age and sleep problems are associated for a number of reasons: increasing use of prescription drugs for other conditions that may interfere with the sleep process, increased stress from family, work and aging in general, as well as a keener awareness of their own body.  They know more readily when they are tired.

Women, the gatekeepers of family health, are generally more open and vocal about health issues than men.  They are more forthcoming in surveys about sleep issues.  And they experience more sleep issues during pregnancy, after birth and during menopause.  Hormonally, the swings they experience create a harder time getting a good night’s sleep.  And they are more vigilant about sleep problems among their children.  But we have found they are the most open to finding non-drug solutions.

Mary Kelley, Co-Founder, Sleep Garden, Inc.