How to catch more zzzs
Feel Better, Live Longer: Sleep
Blame it on the job market, the pollen, or the Internet. Heck, blame it on the weather. It’s hard to get a good night’s sleep in Atlanta.
“Particularly in tough financial times, we tend to think about things at night because there is nothing to distract us,” says David Schulman, M.D., a pulmonary and sleep specialist at Emory University Hospital and assistant professor of medicine at Emory University. Allergies and hot, sticky weather exacerbate the problem. You can’t get comfortable when you’re fighting nasal congestion and postnasal drip or, worse yet, sleep apnea—when you actually stop breathing for a few seconds until your body jolts you back into rhythm. Obesity, which is very common in Atlanta
, increases the severity of these disruptions.
Modern technology is also at fault, says Schulman. Years ago, television went off the air at night, but now there is twenty-four-hour programming. The Internet tempts us with Facebook, web browsing, and video games. “There are a lot of things we can do at two in the morning,” he says.
Many of the patients otolaryngologist Roy Schottenfeld sees have some sort of sleep problem. Most of them are men whose wives have dragged them in because of loud snoring. If the snoring is due to sleep apnea, the solution is nearly always a CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) machine, says Schottenfeld, who has offices in Roswell and Cumming. The device uses a mask to deliver a stream of air to keep the throat from collapsing during sleep.
Sleep apnea is diagnosed with overnight monitoring at a sleep center. Other possible diagnoses include restless legs syndrome (leg discomfort during sleep) and narcolepsy (excessive daytime sleepiness).
But the most common condition, insomnia, usually can be treated at home. “Diet, exercise—all the things primary care doctors preach—will help you get a better restful night’s sleep,” says Schottenfeld.
Get accustomed to an evening routine, such as taking a warm shower and reading before bed, so your body will settle into a nighttime rhythm. Here are other suggestions from Schulman for better sleep:
- Don’t watch TV, work on a computer, or read in bed.
- Go to sleep and wake up at the same time every day to establish a schedule.
- Avoid caffeine after lunchtime; it can stay in your system up to twelve hours.
- Keep your bedroom dark, cool, and quiet. Use a white noise machine to block sounds.
- Don’t exercise within four hours of bedtime so you’re not too wound up later.
- If you can’t sleep after thirty minutes, get up and read or work a puzzle for a few minutes. Take your mind off trying to get to sleep. But don’t turn on the TV or go online.
A night or two of insomnia is normal, but it’s not typical to have several sleepless nights or more a week, says Schulman. “I’m amazed at the number of patients I see who have taken Benadryl every night for twenty years in order to sleep,” he says.
The first step to getting a good night’s rest is creating a comfortable bed, starting with the mattress. Coils, pillowtops, foam, and other features aside, the best way to pick a mattress is to test it, says Dave Choppa, vice president of the Atlanta office of the Original Mattress Factory (fifteen showrooms, including 1335 Capital Circle, Marietta, 770-612-8117, originalmattress.com). Wear comfortable clothes and stretch out on the mattresses in a showroom. You may feel a little self-conscious at first, but look around; everyone else is doing the same thing.
Choose a mattress that provides the support and comfort that feels right to you. It’s a very Goldilocks-esque experience, because what feels too hard or too soft to one customer may be just right for another.
The average lifespan of a mattress is only five to seven years, but if you take care of yours by rotating it—or flipping it if there’s padding on both sides—your mattress can last much longer.
Next, swathe your mattress in high-quality bedding. “The number one thing for me would be a pillow,” says CeCe Easter, owner of Buckhead luxury bedding boutique Belle Chambre (1248 West Paces Ferry Road, 404-816-5333, bellechambre.com). Easter, who sells pillows with eight different types of down, advises customers to hug them when deciding which one they want to be with all night.
A high thread count isn’t the only consideration in choosing sheets. Easter says the highest-quality sheets are made with 100 percent Egyptian cotton, and how the sheets are finished—for example, if the weave is percale or sateen—determines how they feel. High-thread-count percale tends to feel cooler in hot Atlanta summers than sateen. “If you have the right sheets for the climate, you don’t get hot at night. The sheets breathe,” says Easter.
Comfort should be considered before presentation, she adds. Don’t pile your bed with decorative pillows if you don’t have a comfortable pillow to sleep on.
If sunlight wakes you up early, try a 40 Blinks Mask ($12.95, Bed, Bath & Beyond, Whole Foods, bucky.com). The lightweight sleep mask is convex so it doesn’t smash your eyelashes.
Marpac white noise machines ($49.95–$129.95, marpac.com
) offer soothing background sounds. Or prop up your laptop beside the bed and get white noise for free at simplynoise.com.
Sometimes the best cure for insomnia is the bookstore, says Emory pulmonary and sleep specialist David Schulman, M.D. He recommends No More Sleepless Nights ($16.95, Wiley) by Peter Hauri. “Read that and you’ll realize there are people just like you who can’t sleep, too.”
Illustration by Jude Buffum