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Getting a good nights rest (Health)

Getting a good nights rest

Did you sleep well last night? Or did you wake up feeling fatigued and sluggish -- perhaps even wondering if you really slept at all? Getting a good night's sleep requires more than crawling into bed and closing your eyes.Understanding your sleep behavior and preparing for a sound slumber can help make sure every night is a good night for sleeping.

"Sleep is a behavior and, like all behaviors, it varies greatly among people," explains Dr. Carol Landis, sleep researcher and associate professor in biobehavioral nursing and health systems at the University of Washington School of Nursing. "The greatest differences occur in the timing of sleep and the amount of sleep -- the factors which are most important in determining whether you will wake up feeling rested."

Research has found that people sleep better at different times during their daily cycle. For example, some people function better if they go to sleep early and rise early, while others feel more rested if they stay up late and sleep in. "Many people don't pay attention to the timing of their sleep," Landis notes. "Yet delaying or altering the time you go to sleep can have a major impact on how you feel when you wake up."

The amount of sleep the average adult needs each night also varies. Some people may be fine with six hours sleep, while others need up to nine hours per night. Landis points out that those who follow a regular sleep schedule are more apt to function better on fewer hours, but she adds that most adults need at least six hours of sleep each night.

"A person's sleeping patterns aren't set in concrete," Landis stresses. Gradually altering the timing of sleep can help change sleep patterns. An "evening person" who needs to get to work early in the morning can try upping the time they go to bed by 30 minutes every few days. Within a few weeks, this slow adjustment will help "reset" the internal body clock.

In addition to maintaining a regular daily sleep schedule, Landis offers the following tips on practicing good sleep hygiene:

* Avoid stimulants including cigarettes, caffeinated beverages and food such as chocolate in the late afternoon and evening.

* Avoid alcohol. This can have a rebounding effect, causing a person to wake up a few hours into sleep and disturb sleep patterns.

* Finish exercising at least two hours before going to sleep. Exercise increases body temperatures and has an arousing effect, making it more difficult to easily fall asleep.

* Don't sleep in a warm environment. A drop in a person's body temperature is important at the onset of deep sleep. People who sleep in a well-heated room or use an electric blanket may not sleep as soundly.

* Catch up on missed sleep when you have the opportunity. Busy work schedules or weekend activities often make it difficult to get as much sleep as we'd like each night. To reduce this sleep debt, try taking a 30-minute nap during the day before 4 p.m. or sleeping in on weekends when you have a chance.

* "Instead of getting a coffee during a work break, people can get energy by taking a 15 or 30-minute nap instead," Landis points out. "You'll feel better in the long run."

This article was excerpted from HEALTH BEAT, January 27, 1998, a publications of the University of Washington.

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