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Dreaming of Better Sleep

A New Prescription

When the results from my night at the sleep clinic came in, Dr. Kohler phoned to discuss his findings. I braced myself for a stern lecture about my dependence on alcohol, sedatives, and caffeine. But surprisingly, Dr. Kohler offered a simple prescription. I didn't have to give up my morning French roast. (Of course, he thought my caffeine consumption was "really high," but figured that when I started sleeping better I wouldn't need as much.) Amazingly, I could hold onto my Valium too. It wasn't his first choice of sleep aids, but as long as I didn't feel foggy, experience memory loss, or increase my dose, I was okay for now. But he was adamant that I lay off the alcohol. A shot of vodka would help me fall sleep, he explained, but because alcohol metabolizes within five hours it would wake me up as it left my system. That certainly explained why I was prowling the house at 3 a.m. The other thing fueling my insomnia, he told me, was an inconsistent bedtime. The sleep log I'd filled out prior to my study showed that some nights I'd turn in at 9:30; others I'd be up past midnight. "The brain likes routine," he explained. "Stabilizing when we go to bed and when we get up helps with sleep quality."

To reacquaint my body with the idea that bed is a place for sleep, not stress, Dr. Kohler wanted me to get up and do something boring if I didn't doze off within 20 minutes of turning in. When I felt sleepy, then I could go back to bed and try again. And given that I'm a champion worrier, he suggested that before going to bed I write out a "worry list," noting all the things (like my fear of financial ruin) that get my mind spinning. And last but not least, he urged me to get my snoring husband to a sleep specialist. I wasn't arguing, though I was at a loss as to how. After all, we were already sleeping apart. If that wasn't motivation enough, I wasn't sure what would be.

So I focused on what I could do for myself first. I immediately ditched the alcohol and even the Valium (I'd fallen asleep without it at the clinic). Setting a bedtime was more challenging, as I still couldn't resist the urge to get one more thing done before bed. But each night I made an effort, aiming for lights-out between 11 p.m. and midnight. In the mornings, I cut down to three cups of coffee, and in the afternoons, I drank only caffeine-free beverages.

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