A Deep Sleep Without Drugs

Drug companies devising new sleep potions no doubt would be thrilled if insomniacs all agreed to pop pills. But in some cases, treating underlying causes such as depression and chronic pain is the answer. The following behavioral and lifestyle changes may also help:

Beware of subtle stimulants: We all know caffeine at night can be trouble. That includes chocolate. But what about alcohol? It may knock you out when your head hits the pillow, but there's a rebound effect that can wake you up long before sunrise.

Chill out: When you are ready to fall asleep, systematically tense and then relax each muscle in the body, while at the same time focusing on slow, measured breathing.

Channel your thoughts: Instead of ruminating on the day's troubles, focus on something absorbing yet mechanical, such as counting backwards from 1,000 in increments of 17.

Bracket your worry time: Take a half hour each day to make lists of your problems and mull constructive solutions. You can edit that list later -- but don't bring it to bed.

Stick to your workout: It's impossible to overstate the benefits of physical fatigue that comes from rigorous exercise.

Watch where you rest: Nappers love their siestas, but doctors don't recommend them for insomniacs who actually have enough time to sleep at night. On the other hand, if your job truly impinges on your sleep time, a 45-minute nap each day will restore energy and brainpower.

Build up to a full night's sleep: Sometimes you just have to hit the reset button. Try sleeping just four hours one night, then increase your sleep time in half-hour increments for the next few days. Your body may learn to crave a full seven hours.

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