What keeps you awake (Part 1)

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Is a good night's sleep the first thing you sacrifice when life gets too full and busy? If so, this is your wake-up call: You're not just sabotaging your next day's performance (news to none of us), but you're actually harming your health.

"Sleep deprivation is a serious medical risk, but few people are aware of that," says Joyce Walsleben, PhD, an associate professor of medicine at NYU School of Medicine. "You have to pay as much attention to your sleep as you do to eating a nutritious diet."

A spate of studies is turning up clear links between inadequate sleep and obesity, as well as several related conditions: heart disease, hypertension, and type 2 diabetes. The good news is that with adequate shut-eye, these conditions may be reversible, our experts say. Drawing on studies about what robs us of quality sleep, they have devised strategies that can help you get the rest you need. I’ll be updating a line-up of the most insidious sleep thieves—and the latest recommendations on how to bar them from your bedroom forever.

You think too much

The reason you sometimes obsess over a tricky work project or an argument with your best friend when you're trying to fall asleep: "You can't refocus your thinking at the edge of slumber the same way you can when you're alert," says Colleen E. Carney, PhD, an assistant professor of psychiatry at the Insomnia and Sleep Research Program at Duke University Medical Center. "People have little control over their thoughts, because they may be going in and out of a light stage of sleep, even though they think they're awake," she says.

 

Fix It: When fretful, get up and go to another part of the house (but leave the lights off). "Your anxious thoughts will usually stop right away. Then you can go back to bed and fall asleep," Carney says. This well-studied strategy, called stimulus control, also prevents you from associating your bed with anxiety. Another tip: Set aside time early in the evening to problem solve. Write down your pressing concerns, along with a possible solution for each, a few hours before retiring.