FRIDAY, Dec. 12, 2003 (HealthDayNews) -- Many people suffering with insomnia automatically reach for sleep medications, but those drugs are rarely a good first choice, says a sleep expert at National Jewish Medical and Research Center.
"Natural sleep is healthier than drug-aided sleep," Dr. Robert Ballard, director of the Sleep Center at National Jewish, says in a prepared statement.
"After taking sleep medications, people often feel hazy and detached when they wake up. In contrast, people who fall asleep naturally are more likely to wake up refreshed," Ballard says.
He offers some advice on how to develop good sleep habits, which will help you fall asleep more easily and reliably.
Prepare yourself for sleep. The calmer and more relaxed you are before you go to bed, the better you'll sleep. Try to wind down with a relaxing activity before bedtime. Turn down the lights and avoid loud music and television.
"Television stimulates both the visual and auditory senses and, in this regard, is rather interactive. Before bed, it is better to stick to quieter, more isolated activities. Reading, yoga and meditation often prove to be beneficial toward sleep habits," Ballard says.
Stick to a regular schedule by going to bed at about the same time every night. Your body will get used to that schedule and will be better prepared to sleep at bedtime and awaken in the morning.
Create a sleep sanctuary. Dark, cozy environs are where people experience their deepest sleep. Your bedroom should be cool and comfortable. If you have a luminescent alarm clock, position it so that it's out of your direct vision.
If you've spent more than 15 minutes tossing and turning while trying to get to sleep, you should get up. Insomnia often results from anxiety about not getting enough sleep. So, instead of lying in bed fretting about not being able to sleep, get out of bed and read or do some other relaxing activity such as meditation.
Exercise is one of the best things you can do to help you sleep. But you have to exercise at the right time of day. Exercise late in the day can actually contribute to sleeplessness. Morning is the best time to exercise.
Don't eat large meals before bed and don't consume caffeine in the afternoon. Both tobacco and alcohol can impair sleep.
"When people don't get enough sleep, their health can be seriously jeopardized. Not sleeping enough can impair the memory, cause depression, and make one more susceptible to illness," Ballard says.
If you practice good sleep habits but your sleep problems persist for more than a month, you should consult with your doctor, Ballard says.
Here's where you can learn more about getting a good night's sleep.