Albuquerque Journal - Parade - - Front Page - By Paula Spencer Scott

Your body—and your life—runs bet­ter on a good night’s sleep. Here’s how to get out of your own way.

Your body wants to sleep. It re­ally does. To work, ev­ery sys­tem in your body needs z’s.

Sounds sim­ple, but some­times our ex­pec­ta­tions and habits get in the way of the very thing we need most, says Nancy Fold­vary-Schaefer, di­rec­tor of the Cleve­land Clinic Sleep Dis­or­ders Cen­ter. We have trou­ble fall­ing asleep, stay­ing asleep or get­ting re­fresh­ing sleep, she says. In short, we’re do­ing it wrong— and we could be tak­ing years off our lives.

The good news: “Sleep is a skill. It’s not like eye color, which you can’t do any­thing about. If you’re not happy with your sleep, it can be im­proved,” says W. Chris Win­ter, M.D., au­thor of The Sleep So­lu­tion (avail­able April 4).

Here are just a few of the ways you might be get­ting it wrong—and how you can fix it.


Whether you’re ob­sess­ing over to­mor­row’s to-do list or ru­mi­nat­ing about a tense email ex­change, anx­i­ety is a ma­jor sleep killer. Treat it like other stim­u­lat­ing ac­tiv­i­ties like read­ing, binge-watch­ing and binge-eat­ing, and do every­thing you can to ban­ish it from your bed.

“Keep a worry jour­nal that you can fo­cus on by day— then lit­er­ally close the book on those thoughts,” sug­gests Fold­vary-Schaefer.


Our bod­ies don’t do ran­dom well. To max­i­mize sleep, start by pick­ing your de­sired wake-up time and plan­ning a bed­time rou­tine back­ward from there.

How far back to count? That’s where it gets tricky. Adults need seven to nine hours of sleep—a pretty wide range. Some of us are larks, some night owls. Most of us need less as we age. But you need about the same amount most nights. If you’re ly­ing awake, you might be start­ing too early or nap­ping too much by day.

Like kids, we all do bet­ter when rou­tines prompt our bod­ies for what to ex­pect: con­sis­tent meal­times, con­sis­tent ex­er­cise and then a con­sis­tent wind-down and tuck-in time. Pick what­ever plan works for you (like brush­ing teeth, med­i­tat­ing, then snug­gling). Just do it con­sis­tently.


What ex­perts have dubbed “sleep hy­giene” does mat­ter: Keep the room cool, use your bed only for sleep and sex, limit af­ter­noon caf­feine and don’t eat much be­fore bed.

But above all, make sure that your sleep­ing quar­ters are invit­ing. Ask your­self:

• Do I like my mat­tress and pil­low? Firm or soft, all that mat­ters is that you like them and that they don’t cause pain or stiff­ness, which can wake you.

• Am I com­fort­able with my sheets and

blan­kets? Same idea: Pick the hay that makes you want to hit it.

• What am I wear­ing? There’s no right or wrong, but wear­ing less lets you more eas­ily reg­u­late your tem­per­a­ture. Loose cloth­ing in fab­rics like cot­ton, silk and bam­boo—or sleep­ing in the buff—will keep you coolest.


Here’s the tough part: As much as we love our pets, they re­ally have no busi­ness in bed with us. A re­cent study of pet own­ers found that 63 per­cent of re­spon­dents who shared a bed with pets more than four nights a week had poor sleep qual­ity. You may not feel like they’re dis­turb­ing you, but re­mem­ber that dogs have dif­fer­ent sleep-wake cy­cles from hu­mans and don’t tend to zonk out for eight hours straight like we do.

Don’t be­lieve it? Run this test: Wear a track­ing de­vice (like a Fitbit) while sleep­ing with your pooch for two weeks. Then sleep solo for two weeks. Com­pare the amounts of ac­tual sleep you got.


If sleep spe­cial­ists were polled on the one key word for a good night’s sleep, it would prob­a­bly be dark. (Let’s hope you’re not read­ing this on your phone in bed.) Get black­out shades or heavy cur­tains so that you’re not wak­ing up at the crack of dawn (un­less you choose to).

Ban­ish other light sources too:

Phones, tablets, lap­tops, TVs—even some bright clocks and night-lights— re­ally do in­ter­fere with your body clock and keep you up. The short-wave­length blue light, also found in morn­ing light, messes with your mela­tonin, the hor­mone that reg­u­lates sleep and wake cy­cles. And it’s a big­ger prob­lem than ever: A 2017 study found that after sub­jects fol­lowed nat­u­ral light/dark rhythms on a camp­ing trip, their lev­els of mela­tonin re­set by as much as two hours, so they felt sleepy ear­lier, even after they re­turned to civ­i­liza­tion.

One piece of good news for screen ad­dicts: Swedish re­searchers re­cently dis­cov­ered that you can off­set some of the ill ef­fects of look­ing at dig­i­tal de­vices late at night by get­ting plenty of day­light while the sun’s up, whether by spend­ing time out­side or keep­ing your blinds open. We’ve all lain awake wor­ry­ing that we can’t get to sleep—a prob­lem that can build on it­self. Try to quell the panic by re­mind­ing your­self that sim­ply ly­ing in bed is good for you too. “Sleep is awe­some, but rest­ing is not wasted time,” Win­ter says.

Think dull, pleas­ant thoughts—tour ev­ery hole at your fa­vorite golf course or men­tally whip up a pie.

Use pro­gres­sive mus­cle re­lax­ation to clench and stretch ev­ery body part, up from your toes.

If all else fails and you can’t bear the thought of ly­ing awake, it won’t hurt you to get up for a while and do some­thing else. Iron. Read. You will feel sleepy even­tu­ally.

What­ever you do, don’t try to sleep. “You don’t try to be hun­gry,” Win­ter points out. “When you take the ex­pec­ta­tion of sleep away, it tends to come in a hurry.”

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