"O gentle sleep ... how have I frightened thee that thou no more will weigh my eyelids down?" Shakespeare's 17th-century lament on lost sleep (quick quiz: Where's that quote from, "Macbeth" or "Henry IV"?) surely hits home to the 33 percent of folks today who experience mild to severe problems falling or staying asleep.
If you're consistently sleep-deprived (less than 7 to 8 hours nightly), you're a candidate for memory problems, obesity, Type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and depression.
And no matter what causes insomnia — stress, anxiety or chronic pain, for example — there's a good chance that you've tried to beat it with a nightcap. About 20 percent of American adults do. And it can work — sort of.
But researchers have discovered that it's a very short-term solution. Alcohol artificially knocks you out and messes up your body's mechanism that controls wakefulness and sleepiness.
While a drink or two decreases the time it takes to fall asleep and increases your non-REM sleep patterns during the first half of the night, it creates chaos during the second half, popping you awake and disrupting your sleep cycle.
For healthy sleep, get daily exercise (but not within three hours of bedtime).
Take an Epsom salt bath, then eat a banana; the magnesium and potassium relax muscles, and hot water chases away stress hormones.
And make sure the bedroom is for two things only: sex and sleep. If that doesn't work, you can find a trained sleep therapist at behavioralsleep.org.
(Answer: "Henry IV, Part II.")
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