Catch Your Zzzs

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The vast majority of people need a bare minimum of eight hours of sleep a night, yet Americans average only 6.7 hours.

Worse yet, a third of Americans sleep less than six hours. And for many of them, it's a constant fight to get that much.

Why aren't people getting the sleep they need?

"Entire books have been written on that subject," says Steven Cole, owner of Back to Basics, Payson's popular health food and vitamin-supplement emporium. "But by far, the most common cause we hear from our customers is stress."

That's also the snooze-disorder source cited by Vita-Health patrons, according to manager Leslie Carney.

"Most of the people I talk to can't sleep because there are things going on in their life," says Carney, who has won her own battles with sleeplessness.

It is Cole's experience that, in the realm of herbal solutions, the most popular on his store's shelves is Kava Kava "a good relaxant that can be consumed as a tea or in capsule form." Another favorite, he says, is Forte, which is among the very few homeopathic remedies allowed by the FDA to state on its label that it's effective for use by those with sleep disorder. "Usually, the FDA doesn't do that for nonpharmaceuticals," Cole says.

Cali Cole, Steven's sister and Back to basics co-owner, adds that her store also sells goodly amounts of Valerian Nighttime, "an herbal capsule you take before bed, and it just relaxes you. Chamomile Tea and, for those without blood-pressure or auto-immune problems, melatonin are also popular."

For herself, Carney prefers to avoid melatonin, which is a hormone, in favor of sticking with strictly-herbal remedies like Valerian Nighttime or Sleep Assure, "which has a bit of melatonin in it, but it also contains a number of herbs and amino acids. If those products don't work," Carney suggests, "you should see your physician."

An ever-increasing number of sleepless folks, however, are discovering that these products do work for them.

"More and more people are looking for herbal remedies not just for their sleep problems, but for everything," Cole observes. "It's amazing how many people want to get off of pharmaceuticals and their side effects. Every day we have people coming in, trying new natural remedies and when they succeed, they are very happy."

Sleep without drugs or herbs

Also gaining increased interest among the sleep-impaired is identifying and finding ways to work around without drugs or herbs the "outside factors" that can interfere with or prevent sleep, from stress to illness to caffeine.

Dr. James Maas, a sleep expert and professor of psychology at Cornell University, has produced the booklet, "The 7 Sleeping Habits of Highly Effective People" which identifies the seven most important sleeping habits people should develop to improve the quality of their sleep.

"A starting point to developing good sleep habits is to look at which sleep busters are keeping you awake," Maas says. The most common villains are:

1. Caffeine. Drinking a caffeinated beverage or eating lots of chocolate close to bedtime or even late in the afternoon can delay the onset of sleep. As a general rule, avoid caffeine and high-sugar foods within six hours of your bedtime.

2. Late, heavy dinners. While a full stomach often leads to drowsiness within four or five hours of bedtime, it will probably leave you restless after the initial onset of sleepiness wears off. Keep your dinner light and avoid foods that cause indigestion.

3. Erratic sleep schedule. Varying your bedtime from night to night and sleeping late one morning while getting up early the next can throw your inner sleep-wake cycle into disarray. Find a bedtime and wake time that work for you, and stick to them seven days a week.

4. Exercise schedule. Exercising too late at night can release adrenaline into your body and make it difficult to sleep. In general, avoid strenuous aerobic or physical activity within three hours of bedtime. If you choose to work out early in the morning, make sure you are still able to fulfill your sleep needs.

5. Stress. Stress is one of the most common reasons for insomnia. Counteract it by clearing your mind when you enter the bedroom. Make a mental or even physical note of your concerns and tasks for the day ahead, and assign a time to deal with them the next day.

6. Family sleep traps. Nocturnal demands from children or a snoring bed partner can wreak havoc on an otherwise peaceful night. Condition your child to follow a schedule that allows both of you adequate sleep, investigate the cause of your spouse's snoring, and take other steps to eliminate sleep traps and get the rest you need.

7. Sickness. Coughing, sneezing, fever, headache and other physical discomforts that come with a cold or flu make it extremely difficult to sleep when you're sick a time when you need rest more than ever. A number of over-the-counter products can help relieve such symptoms so you can get the sleep you need to feel better.

"Sickness is one of the biggest sleep busters," Maas says. "When you're sick, it's especially important to get restorative sleep to help your body heal itself."

"The 7 Sleeping Habits of Highly Effective People" is available online by visiting www.nyquil.com. The National Sleep Foundation also contributed content to the brochure. Consumers can obtain a free copy by writing to: NyQuil/The 7 Sleeping Habits of Highly Effective People, 303 East Wacker, Suite 440, Chicago, IL 60601.

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