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Susan Johnston

Susan Johnston

December 23, 2014

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Secrets for Better Sleep

Women are twice as likely to suffer from insomnia as men are, and if you’re one of those women then you know how exhausting the workday can be. You’re ready to curl up in bed by mid-afternoon, but once you finally go to bed at night, you’re wide awake. Classic example: Sonya Lo Carr, an accounts manager for an electronics company, has suffered from sleep issues for most of her life. Like many twentysomething women, she says it’s often triggered by stress over work, school, or finances. “I have a really busy mind, so if I lie down and it starts racing, I have no hope of sleeping,” she says. “Eventually I start worrying about how tired I’ll be the next day, which just makes it worse.

Sound familiar? Here, some tips on falling (and staying) asleep from Dr. Joyce Walsleben, director of the Sleep Disorders Center at NYU’s School of Medicine and author of A Woman’s Guide to Sleep. (Crown Publishing Group; $19)

Keep your bedtime consistent. Establishing (and sticking to) regular patterns for sleeping will make it easier to fall asleep and get up in the morning. Dr. Walsleben says you should “get up at a regular set time” every day, including weekends. “You can stall it about an hour over the weekend,” she adds. “Pay attention to when you’re tired and get into bed.” It also helps if you’re exposed to bright light or sunshine first thing in the morning to “jolt your biological clock.”

Cut your caffeine intake. That 3 p.m. soy latte may be another culprit for your lack of sleep. “If you’re having trouble sleeping, I would not be taking caffeine after noontime,” Dr. Walsleben says. “It lasts a very long time, and the same is true of alcohol.” Sonya found that she sleeps better without a jolt of afternoon java.

Create a stress-free space for sleeping. Flashing computer monitors, digital clocks, and other electronics can all distract you from falling asleep. Dr. Walsleben recommends that you “keep yourself in a dark, quiet room” and stay in bed even if you wake up in the middle of the night. Following the principles of sleep hygiene, Sonya has retrained her body to associate her bed and her bedroom with sleep. “I do not have a TV in my room,” she says. “My bedroom is basically a place to store my stuff.”

If all else fails, see a doctor. Snoring loudly or gasping for air during sleep are both signs of sleep apnea, so you’ll want to rule that out. Dr. Walsleben says that if “things are lasting a couple of weeks and you’re trying sensible habits,” it might be time to call in an expert.