Expert Advice from the Sleep Doctor

Mounting research confirms short naps not only help us concentrate but improve our moods. Squeezing a 10- to 20-minute …

Clinical psychologist Dr. Michael J. Breus is an expert on sleep disorders. Also known as The Sleep Doctor, he is the author of three books, including the bestseller Beauty Sleep: Look Younger, Lose Weight, and Feel Great Through Better Sleep. Besides having a private practice, Dr. Breus also serves as the Sleep Expert for WebMD and pens "Sleep Matters," a monthly column in "WebMD" magazine. He also writes The Insomnia Blog and can be found regularly on "The Huffington" Post and "Psychology Today." Among his numerous national media appearances, he has been interviewed on CNN, "Oprah," "The View" and "The Doctors." He also appears regularly on "The Dr. Oz Show." Yes, you might ask when does this man have time to sleep!

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Knowing that many ThirdAgers have a problem getting their zzz's we decided to ask The Sleep Doctor you questions about making it through the night.

Question: On many nights I just can't fall asleep. What can I do?

Dr. Breus: There are many reasons people can't fall asleep. The most common reason is they can't turn off their minds. When you are trying to fall asleep, that is the only time of the day when you are really by yourself. You can sometimes feel very anxious or depressed. Also sometimes the reason you can't go to sleep is physical. You are in pain. There is effective medications you can take for anxiety and depression and pain.

Sometimes the problem can be your bedroom. You may have an old, uncomfortable mattress or a pillow that does not give your neck support. So one has to be a detective to find out the cause in each case. But my basic five steps to help you get a good night's sleep are: Figure out the bedtime that works best for you and stick to it. Limit caffeine after two pm. Be aware of soft drinks with caffeine. Limit alcohol to three hours before lights out. You should not exercise four hours before bedtime .And get fifteen minutes of sunlight every day.

Question: I wake every other night at 3:23 a.m. and am up for several hours. What is causing this and how do I get back to sleep?

Dr. Breus: That's sleep maintenance insomnia and that the most common kind of insomnia. You wake up and your brain clicks into overdrive. A couple of different things can help.There are medications that can be taken in the middle of the night that help put you back to sleep for shorter amounts of time than those taken to sleep through the whole night. And one can learn different behavioral techniques to distract from these racing thoughts. Some people can learn to relax through meditation, deep breathing or listening to soft music.

You know there are five stages of sleep. Stages one and two are light sleep and make up half the night. Stage three and four are the physically restoring and muscle repairing stage of sleep, and REM sleep is the mentally repairing sleep that refreshes creativity and problem-solving and happens later in the night. You need all five stages of sleep to wake up really rested and refreshed.

Question: My husband is a snorer and he keeps me up half the night. What do I do?

Dr.Breus: Data shows that someone who sleeps with a snorer loses an hour of sleep a night. Snoring is a turbulence problem. Air comes into one's nose and if there is a narrowing of the pathway, the faster the air moves, the more the tissues vibrate. To stop snoring one has to slow the air down, or open up the path. Some advice: Use a nasal decongestant. Remove any allergens from the bedroom. Check out the sheets and comforters. Put in a humidifier or an air filter in the bedroom. There are also pillows that keeps one's head on the side. One snores when one's head is back. Rolling to the side, opens up the airwaves. There are also mouth guards. And if the snorer can lose weight, it helps. And a final tip, no alcohol.

Question: I am menopausal, have hot flashes and wake up wringing wet. Any advice?

Dr. Breus: There is a difference between hot flashes with sweats and hot flashes without and nobody knows why. But if you wake up sweating, try moisture wicking sheets and pajamas that pull the moisture away from your body and make you feel drier and more comfortable.Frequently you will be advised to make your bedroom very cold, but if the room is too cold, your body does the opposite. It pulls your blood into your torso to warm you up and can bring on a hot flash. Keeping very regular sleeping habits can help you, too.

Question: I really look so much better if I have a good night's sleep. Why does sleep affects my looks so much these days?

Dr. Breus: As we age, lack of sleep affects our looks more obviously and shows up more prominently on our faces.The blood pools under our eyes, making dark circles. Skin can look ashen and gray. Because sleep has the capacity to enhance the skin's ability to hold water, when we are tired we look drawn and lines and wrinkles are more noticeable. Other ways skin affects our looks: Our nails and hair grow when we sleep and we even lose weight. Yes, we can stay up late in our twenties and party and it doesn't show. As we get older we really need to get our beauty sleep.

Myrna Blyth is Editor-In-Chief of ThirdAge.

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