"I'm just so tired all the time," a friend recently moaned.
She goes to bed at 11 and gets up at 7. But a lot of that time is spent tossing and turning. "I'm not awake enough to call it insomnia, but I'm only kind of asleep." I get it. Me, too. There's obviously a quantifiable difference between sleeping and sleeping well.
Recent research suggests that artificial light from computers and other electronics used in the hours before bedtime might disrupt our circadian rhythms. Some sleep sages call for an electronic curfew. But honestly, it's not even remotely realistic to expect me not to stare at a screen right up to dreamland.
What else can you do to optimize your shut-eye?
What the experts say
"Finish eating two or three hours in advance of bedtime, because the body wants to stop working on digestion and start working on the reboot that happens in your brain chemistry. Your body wants magnesium to sleep well; it works in conjunction with calcium. Magnesium comes in oats, dates, figs and nuts, but it depends on what kind of soil those were grown in. A 100-mg magnesium pill right before bed is really helpful. Epsom salts are crystal magnesium. In an Epsom salt bath, salts are absorbed through the skin and give muscles the tools they need to relax. Oatmeal is a brilliant bedtime snack."
THERESA ALBERT, nutritionist and author, Ace Your Health, Toronto
"If you get a good workout, one would presume you'd sleep more soundly or better or longer. We did a pilot study with 14 subjects over an average period of 23 days. Much to my surprise, we did not find this correlation. Exercise didn't correlate with the amount of sleep. There are studies that look at exercise over a longer period of time, and there is convincing work that you can help insomniacs by introducing exercise into their daily regimen. What I'm showing is that if you exercise really well today, the evidence doesn't show that you'll have a great sleep tonight. You need to look at the longer term."
ARN ELIASSON, sleep research consultant, Walter Reed Army Medical Center, Bethesda, Maryland
"If you put someone in a room where the lights are on for 12 hours and off for 12, after dusk they would lie quietly for two hours but not sleep. Then there would be a four-hour block of sleep, then the person would awake for half an hour and go back to sleep for another four. Then there's a two-hour transition into an awake state as it gets light. Human sleep is naturally bimodal, with this small interruption in the middle of the night. We don't have that now because we're squeezing a 12- or 8-hour pattern into 7. If you wake at night, it might be a mid-sleep break, a throwback to an earlier pattern. Relax and know that your biology is adapted to go back to sleep. Bedrooms should be cool; part of going to sleep is a loss of core body temperature. Low amounts of light, like from a computer, can have an alerting effect on brain systems."
RUSSELL FOSTER, chair, circadian neuroscience, Oxford University, Oxford, England
"Alcohol disturbs sleep more than people imagine. You may fall asleep faster, but you get a rebound effect on the autonomic nervous system that can increase heart palpitations and feelings of anxiety. A new finding on the consequences of poor sleep: when people were deprived of a few hours of sleep a night, there was a significant change in the nocturnal glucose and insulin level. People craved more carbohydrate-based foods during the day. Not optimizing your sleep can lead to almost immediate physical consequences and long-term ones like weight gain and type 2 diabetes."
JAMES MacFARLANE, professor of pediatrics and psychiatry, U of T, clinical consultant, MedSleep, Toronto
"De-clutter. Don't have too much furniture, or furniture that's architecturally heavy. A lot of people spend a fortune on their bed and can't sleep. Colour is key: no reds, blues or blacks, or variations on those colours, no pinks or lilacs. Greens are really good. Have a solid headboard and two night tables. You must tap into your good direction - your crown has to point in your good direction, from a formula based on your year of birth. No mirrors in the bedroom. Your bedroom should not be above the kitchen, or at least try not to have your bed above the stove. It's better to have curtains instead of blinds."
DOLLY SIDHU, feng shui consultant, World of Feng Shui, Vaughan