Seven essential tips for sleeping well

In my first month of medical school, I realized the volume of material to master was too great to cram into an all-nighter.

I arrived at my anatomy mid-term without a wink of sleep and during the middle of the exam, I fell asleep.

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My classmates were either totally focused on their own tests or still in the competitive pre-med mode. No one woke me up.

Later, my dad talked to me for the first time about my career. He suggested I consider switching to dentistry where I would get a lot more sleep.

Since then, I've made it a priority to get sufficient sleep.

Inadequate sleep not only impairs our performance at school or work. It can affect emotions, physical wellbeing and safety. Driving without sleep can impair us as much as alcohol.

How can you tell if you're getting enough sleep?

If you're not, you'll feel tired. However, there can be other causes for low energy, including an underactive thyroid, vitamin deficiencies, anemia, a poor diet, lack of exercise and depression.

If you're sleeping well, or sleeping excessively, but still feel tired, talk to your family doctor.

If, like many high school and college students, you're staying up too late during the week, you might accumulate a sleep debt and need to sleep in on the weekends.

Late-night studying can result in diminishing returns when you are less alert and focused in class.

Sleep can be interrupted by medical problems. Pain from arthritis may disturb sleep. Frequent urination can be a symptom of prostate and urinary tract disorders. Shortness of breath may be due to asthma or congestive heart failure. Sleep apnea, where the upper airway becomes obstructed during sleep, can make a person feel unrested in the morning and sleepy throughout the day.

If you're having problems falling asleep consider a natural approach that respects your body's natural circadian rhythms.

Here are seven tips for sleeping well:

?Exercise every day - but not close to bedtime.

?Avoid caffeine and alcohol in the evening. Alcohol has a double effect on our brains. It initially depresses us, making us feel sleepy, but later stimulates us, causing anxiety or awakening.

?Avoid stimulating activities after dinner. Couples can make an exception on date night. (I recommend regular dates to all married couples - but only with their partners.)

?Choose quiet, calming evening activities, including listening to music, meditating or reading. Reading an algebra textbook or listening to a lecture from your most boring professor may be the best sleep prescription.

?If you have to worry, do it earlier in the day, not at bedtime.

?Keep the lighting low as bedtime approaches. Avoid the bright lights of television and computer monitors.

?Develop your own bedtime rituals that might include a warm bath to relax your weary muscles.

In the minutes before I fall asleep, I mentally review the day that has passed.

I reflect on what I have learned from others, the significance of my experiences and the blessings I have received.

I let go of the day that has passed - and anything else I need to - in order to be present and live fully the next day.

Dr. Davidicus Wong is a family physician at the PrimeCare Medical Centre. His Healthwise column appears regularly in this paper. You can read more about achieving your positive potential for health at davidicuswong.wordpress. com.

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