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Sheryl Kraft

Sheryl Kraft, a freelance writer and breast cancer survivor, was born in Long Beach, New York. She currently lives in Connecticut with her husband Alan and dog Chloe, where her nest is empty of her two sons Jonathan. Sheryl writes articles and essays on breast cancer and contributes to a variety of publications and websites where she writes on general health and wellness issues. She earned her MFA in writing from Sarah Lawrence College in 2005.

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woman awake and yawining

Do you sleep to dream or dream of sleep?

Self-Care & Mental Health

I don't know about you, but I'm not much of a morning person. Conversations (or lack thereof) used to go something like this:

"Good morning, honey!" My husband.

"Morning." Me.

Waiting for more? Nope. That was it. He'd take the hint when I'd pour my coffee, bury my head in the newspaper, and pretty much ignore the fact that he was standing there, next to me, waiting for – no, actually craving - some conversation.

Part of his chipper-ness (I know that's not a word, but a rather apt description, don't you think?) was that he was already awake for hours. It's not that I'm such a late sleeper, but more that he's notorious for rising before the sun. The other part? He was well-rested and raring to go.

I, on the other hand, never woke up with that kinda feeling. And ever since I hit my 40s, my mornings are worse – yet I'm more talkative. It's because I have so much to say. Now conversations go something like this:

"Good morning, honey! How did you sleep?"

"Ugh. I had the WORST night. First, I couldn't fall asleep…I tossed and I turned. And then, I fell asleep but woke up 2 hours later, thinking it was morning; I kept looking at the clock. But then I couldn't fall back to sleep, you were snoring so loudly. When I finally feel back to sleep, I woke up to pee an hour later. And it was so hot in the room, wasn't it? And now, I have this huge headache."

Guess whose head is buried in the newspaper now? I mean, do you really think my husband wants this kind of conversation?

I know many of you can identify with this scenario because most of you reading this are women. And women are more likely than men to have difficulty falling – and staying – asleep than men.

Okay, this is not exactly the conversation – I mean, I don't suffer all these things every single night. But I only get one chance to describe it, so I've consolidated them into this one conversation. Face it - there are things that are big SLEEP STEALERS, and every one of them is listed above. Which is kind of good news, right? We can do something about most of them to ensure ourselves a well-rested night.

Let's break them down.

  • I tossed and I turned. Not surprising; things like menstruation, pregnancy or menopause can cause insomnia. So can watching TV or being on the computer too close to bedtime (these emit a blue light that can stimulate adrenalin production), drinking too much alcohol or even talking on the phone (that's the one I always eliminate – it revs me up too much).

This matters> Experts say that if you toss and turn and cannot fall asleep, there are a few things you can do. Establish regular bed and wake times, limit caffeine consumption (no coffee after 2 or 3 PM), and don't exercise too close to bedtime. And having an adequate level of magnesiumcan be helpful, since it produces and supports the brain chemical serotonin.

Turn on a dim light and read. That can help take your mind off your tossing and turning, and lull you off to sleep.

  • I fell asleep, but woke up and kept looking at the clock. Something you might not realize is that the glow from things like radios or TVs, no matter how subtle, can actually interfere with sleep and cause you to wake up throughout the night.

This matters> Try a sleep mask. It really helps. If your room is not completely dark, light can actually get through your eyelids and disturb your sleep. Blackout curtains or shades work well, too. And if you can't keep your eyes from your clock, turn it around, move it out of sight, or as a last resort, smash it into tiny little pieces.

  • You snore. Earplugs. Go to the drugstore and buy those nice, comfy foam inserts.

This matters> They might not completely eliminate the snoring, but they do dull that awful sound that can be like nails on a blackboard. It's worth a try. And don't underestimate noise – white noise – which helps, too. It can be as simple as turning on a fan, or getting one of those sound machines (you can even set some to mimic the sounds of the surf…and dream of the beach).

  • I woke up to pee. I know, this one is obvious – and the fix is pretty easy. I make the mistake of enjoying a cup of tea or decaf coffee a bit too close to bedtime. So, it's my own fault.

This matters> Restrict liquids in the evening; if possible, don't drink anything within 2 hours of turning in.

  • It was hot in the room. It could be menopausal night sweats. Or maybe it's time to switch out the flannels for a nice skimpy nightgown.

This matters> If the room is too hot, it can really play havoc with your sleep. The cooler the temperature (provided you're not getting frostbite), the more conducive it is to slumber. If you live in an apartment where the landlord controls the heat (or if your husband likes to act like the landlord) crack a window.

  • I have a huge headache. You might be clenching or grinding your teeth while you sleep. It's called sleep bruxism(and it's more common than you think (some surveys find that 8% of adults do it). Two major causes - anxiety and stress (no surprise there).

This matters> Aside from headaches and/or jaw pain, one look in your mouth can tell you if you are a grinder: some teeth will be worn down, flattened, fractured or chipped, or may even be more sensitive. Your dentist can fit you with a mouth guard (I know, it's not sexy to wear to bed, but it works). You may also want to consider other approaches like biofeedback, behavior therapy, or stress management.

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