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ASK THE EXPERT: I have sleepless nights. I think I have insomnia. What can I do to cure this sleeping disorder?
Jigme Sethi, MD,
Chief of Pulmonary,
Critical Care and
Sleep Medicine

Eliminate tea, coffee and cola (even decaffeinated) beverages after early afternoon. Avoid alcohol as a sleep aid. It will cause you to wake up early or repeatedly during the night.

Reserve a time in the evening to address concerns that may be troubling you. Then, turn the lights low in your living room and spend a half hour relaxing your body and mint to unwind (for example, listening to soft music or reading a book). Avoid using the computer or TV in the late evening. The bright light of the screen tricks you mind into thinking it is still light outside and delays sleep onset. Do not use the bed to read, watch TV or relax. You must train your mind to associate the bed as a place to sleep or for sex.

Once you go to bed, if you can't fall asleep in about twent minutes, return to quiet activity in the living room. Do not stay in bed hoping for sleep to come to you. It will not. Only return to bed when you are very sleepy. No matter when you actually fall asleep, always wake up to an alarm set at your preferred time. Keep the same time on workdays and weekend.. Do not nap! Even if you have slept only a few hours at night, wake up at your regular time. Your sleep drive will increase the next day (provided you don't nap) and it will help you fall asleep easier on the following night. Keep to this routine and once you are falling asleep more promptly when you lie down, try going to bed twenty minutes earlier, each week. Slowly, with persistence, you will be training your mind to associate lying down with sleep and will be able to sleep more efficiently.

Contact a physician with expertise in sleep medicine to assist you with proper sleep practices. If the routine described above does not work, it may be because of disorders like restless legs syndrome, untreated heartburn or sleep apnea. These disorders may also cause sleep difficulty.
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