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Say Good Night to Insomnia
By Nina Zolotow
You’ve tried it all—chamomile tea, hot baths, aromatherapy, melatonin—and nothing works. Your insomnia obviously calls for something a little stronger than a glass of warm milk. In fact, you need something that packs a bit more punch, but you don’t want to resort to sleep medications. Good news: Sleep researcher Roger Cole, PhD, from Del Mar, California, recommends two powerful, natural sleep therapies that have helped many insomniacs drift off peacefully to dreamland.
Resetting your body clock
If you have difficulty falling asleep at night and waking up in the morning, try dawn/dusk simulation, a form of sleep therapy that resets your body clock. Your body uses natural signals, including sunlight and darkness, to trigger hormones that make you active in the morning and sleepy at night. Bright light, particularly morning sunlight, provides the strongest signal the body uses to regulate this hormonal cycle, called your circadian rhythm. So if you typically awaken before sunrise or work in artificially lit environments, your circadian rhythm may have gotten out of sync. Using a light box may help you reset it.
Here’s how to do it: Spend the first half hour of each morning in simulated “dawn,” by sitting in front of a light box. You can do this while you eat your breakfast, read the paper, or go about your morning routine. Before bed, spend time in simulated “dusk” by closing the curtains and keeping lights dim. This combination should reset your clock within a few days.
If sleep problems continue, wake up and use your light box a half hour earlier for a few days. Cole says eventually you’ll hit a “magic sleep spot.” Once you do, you should be able to discontinue the therapy. But people who are true night owls may need to keep using both dawn and dusk simulation indefinitely to stay on their new schedules.
Cole recommends a light box that delivers 10,000 lux at a distance of at least 20 inches. A large field of view (at least 18” wide) is a plus, and a box that gives white light with an extra boost of blue or blue-green may be more effective than a plain white box.
If you have trouble falling and staying asleep, and spend time tossing and turning, sleep restriction therapy may be the ticket. This therapy is based on the theory that although your body may have learned to get along without sleep, it’s actually possible for you to retrain it.
Start by estimating how much sleep you typically get each night, as opposed to how many hours you stay awake in bed hoping for sleep (say five hours of sleep for seven in bed). Stay in bed only for the amount of time you usually sleep (the five hours), scheduling your bedtime and wake-up time appropriately (say, 1 a.m. to 6 a.m.). Meanwhile, use your bedroom for sleeping only (and for, well, you know). And no fair taking mid-day naps.
If you do wake up during the night, lie awake in bed no more than 15 minutes. Then leave the bedroom, stay warm, and engage in a ...
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