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Catch sleep-depriving culprits so you can catch your zzzs
by Janet Kinosian

Good, sound sleep means you wake up feeling well rested and refreshed. However, if your nights are filled with frustration and mornings with fatigue, and you've checked yourself for the usual culprits like downing 7pm espresso shots or using your bed as a home office, here are some less obvious insomnia-inducing habits that just may be the source. Since these things happen while you're off in slumberland, they may not be the first to come to mind, but they can cause both sleep and health troubles.

Bedtime milk and cookies sounds like the perfect way to wind down before hitting the sack. But that soothing ritual might be costing you more than a few extra calories. When Oprah tells us she doesn't dare touch food after 8pm, she's doing it for weight loss reasons. But even if you're not a dieting diva, eating late is never a good idea. According to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, if you're eating a large meal before bedtime, the digestion process can get in the way of your good night's sleep. Besides disrupting your REM time, you may also be contributing to a more serious condition, gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). This occurs when food is pushed back up into the esophagus via stomach acids, causing a burning sensation and sometimes choking and coughing.

sleep and dreamsRemedy:
Do not eat a large meal or snack within two to three hours of bedtime. If this is unavoidable, plan ahead and satisfy your appetite earlier in the evening so all you'll need is a light snack before going to bed. If you do conk out after your gorge session, be sure to elevate your head with pillows.

Electrical Stimulation in the Bedroom
Everyone likes a little bedroom stimulation now and again, but just be sure those sparks are coming from your partner or spouse, and not from a love affair with technological gadgetry. Are you unwittingly charging your room with electrical current? The average home is filled with electromagnetic interference, as it is generated from every electric appliance. According to theories in quantum physics, electrical charges fill our air and can disturb sleep. Whether you're an avid tech junkie or just the average consumer, you likely have a TV, radio, CD player, portable phone and perhaps even a computer, printer, scanner and fax all within your compact sleep space. These pieces of electronic equipment -- particularly the TV and computer screen -- give off high levels of electromagnetic energy even long after they're turned off. You're literally jamming up your air with electronic waves.

Remedy :
Turn off the electricity. Zero is the best number of electronic equipment to have in your bedroom; however, you can cover both your TV and computer screens with fabric before retiring and place a medium-to-large-size plant in your room for every piece of electrical equipment. Palms, peace lilies and spider plants are said to absorb the most electrical current. Digitally displayed alarm clocks emit a high amount of EMI, and should not be kept close to your head. Put them on the other side of your room or switch to a nondigital clock.

Are You a Stomach Sleeper?
Get in touch with your inner child while you sleep. According to researchers, the best sleeping positions that put the least stress on your joints and organs are on your back or in the semifetal position, where you lay on one side with knees slightly bent, one arm outstretched above the head, the other resting comfortably on the opposing upper arm to cradle the head. Both give your spine and body proper alignment .

However, if your preferred sleep position is on your stomach, you may be asking for trouble. You'll spend many hundreds of hours smashing your delicate facial skin into a pillow, which helps produce wrinkles, sagging and puffiness, not to mention trauma to your neck, spine and lower back.

Remedy :
Change sleep positions. Sleep doctors suggest adhering two tennis balls to your stomach so whenever you try and switch to the old tummy routine, you'll automatically reposition your

Increased Blood Cortisol Levels
The highly publicized study that linked lack of sleep with extra weight is accurate on one side of the equation. The study does not suggest getting more sleep will help you lose weight. It says if you're not getting enough sleep, you'll feel less equipped to handle stress and your intricate hormonal system will react, increasing stress hormones like cortisol. Higher blood cortisol negatively affects your sleep patterns in a round-robin effect. Numerous studies also show that increased cortisol levels both increase appetite -- particularly for sugar and starchy carbohydrates -- as well as promote stubborn belly fat. If that's not enough to want to keep them in check, recent studies also indicate a direct correlation between elevated cortisol levels and high blood pressure, diabetes and a decreased resistance to infection.

Put in plenty of pillow time. Get yourself to bed at a reasonable hour so that you're not dreading the sound of the alarm clock come morning. Figure out how many hours of sleep your body operates best with, and once you start getting that magic number, your hormones will readjust and both your sleep and weight will normalize.

Sleep Apnea, RLS and PLMD
People tend to think that sleep problems are a part of life, and don't often think to discuss them with their doctor. But there are certain medical conditions that could be interfering with your sleep, and, since they happen during sleep, they will most often escape your notice.

Snoring isn't always just a nuisance.
It could be a sign of a larger problem. According to the Sleep Research Society, sleep apnea occurs when airflow to the lungs is briefly blocked, most often in the throat, in repeated episodes of gasping, sometimes up to 50 times an hour. Snorting and gasping are the telltale signs. Obesity; the use of nicotine, alcohol or sedatives; hypothyroidism; sleeping on one's back; and excessive airway tissue are key factors. Sleep apnea can be dangerous to your health, so if you suspect your snoring may be sleep apnea , contact a doctor.

Restless legs syndrome (RLS) sends odd, uncomfortable sensations deep within the leg muscles and knees, creating forceful urges to move, particularly at night. Sufferers may jerk themselves awake with leg spasms or kicking movements, preventing a restful night's sleep. Periodic limb movement disorder (PLMD) centers in the lower limbs and consists of spasms that can occur up to hundreds of times a night. The telltale signs of PLMD are crumpled bedcovers at the foot of the bed, along with kicking and jerking during sleep and unknowingly awakening many times during the night.

Remedy :
If you suspect you might have any of the above sleep disorders, discuss them with your doctor as soon as possible. He or she can recommend a treatment to help get you back on the track to well-restedness.