I Can't Sleep


on 4:53 PM

Can't sleep? How to sleep better by solving your sleep problems and sleep insomnia

The Worrier

The Woman
Kristen Nelson, 30, nursing student at the University of California at San Francisco

The Problem A racing mind.
Nelson frequently lay awake for hours. "My mind would just race," she says. "I'd be like, 'Tomorrow: Do I need to bring my lunch, should I buy it at school, should I bring my laptop with me?'" Exhausted, she felt fuzzy and irritable during the day.

The Solution 
Nelson started going to bed 2 hours later, while forcing herself to rise at her regular time. You'd think this practice — known as sleep restriction — would only make her more tired. And in the short run, it did. But it also meant that she fell asleep faster and slept more deeply. "It squashes all the sleep into one block of time," says Edward Stepanski, Ph.D., director of thesleep disorders center at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago. "Once we've improved the quality, we work on the quantity." Nelson gradually shifted her bedtime earlier until she was getting 7 hours straight.

Nelson never naps or sleeps past 8 A.M. In bed she relaxes by sequentially tensing and releasing muscles in her arms, legs, shoulders, and face. "Now when a thought comes into my head I say, 'Oh, I had a thought.' I taught myself to just take them as they come," she says. "Since I started this, I have never felt better. I don't get as frustrated or upset about things as I used to."

The Overdoer

The Woman
Pamela Bolanis, 30, senior vice president in sales at Wachovia Securities in Richmond, Virginia

The Problem Spending too little time in bed.
A six-time marathoner and mother of a 1-year-old, Bolanis is at the office by 7:30 A.M. and often out with clients until 10 P.M. Although she needs 81/2 hours of sleep, she gets more like 6, rising early to spend time with her son. She drinks half a pot of coffee every morning but finds that her concentration and memory are impaired. "Sleep is so important," she says, "but with my current state of affairs, something has got to give."

The Solution 
There is no medical treatment for people who are too busy to sleep. Experts say they simply need to make different choices. Eric Olson, M.D., codirector of the Mayo Sleep Disorders Center in Rochester, Minnesota, recommends sleeping in on weekends and taking strategic naps (note: these are verboten for insomniacs because they can make it harder to fall asleep at night). Joyce Walsleben, Ph.D., a psychologist at New York University's Sleep Disorders Center, suggests that overextended people start going to bed consistently 15 minutes earlier. After a week or two, they should move bedtime up another quarter hour. "Nobody can argue they can't give 15 minutes a night," she says.

The Night Owl

The Woman
Jennifer Weihs, 21, occupational therapy student at Creighton University in Omaha, Nebraska

The Problem Biological clock needs resetting.
The biological clock is the part of the brain that ensures that we feel tired at night and alert during the day. Darkness directs the clock to start producing the sleep-inducing hormone melatonin. Weihs's body releases melatonin later than normal, making her a born night owl. She had trouble falling asleep, especially before midnight, and mornings were torture. Her roommates literally had to shake her or she'd miss class. "I never woke up and felt rested," she says. Weihs's disorder, called delayed sleep phase syndrome, is related to jet lag and the problems experienced by people who work the night shift.

The Solution 
Weihs started taking melatonin every night at 8 P.M., and immediately found she could fall asleep earlier. She also started forcing herself awake at 9 A.M. to sit for half an hour in front of a light box — a device that uses a fluorescent bulb to mimic the sun's intensity. Soon she was waking up at 9 A.M. — without her alarm. "That, for me, was extraordinary," says Weihs, who now consistently turns in by 10:30 P.M. and gets up at 7:30 A.M. "The difference is life-changing." 

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