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 Melatonin and Eight Other Tips for a Good Night's Sleep 
The following is one in an ongoing series of columns entitled Women's Nutrition Detective by . View all columns in series
If you have trouble getting a good night’s sleep, you’re not alone. A survey conducted by the National Sleep Foundation found that literally millions of people sleep so poorly that they’re tired during the day. Forty-three percent of them were so sleepy it interfered with their activities. Fatigue can have serious side effects. Sleepiness causes 100,000 auto accidents each year in our country alone.

What's worse, sleeping pills are often addictive and can have serious side effects. But there are other great ways that will safely help you get a good night’s sleep.

This is important because a restful night’s sleep affects your emotional and physical health. In fact, it’s just as important for you to get enough good quality sleep as it is to eat healthy foods and exercise regularly. It’s part of a lifestyle that promotes health and fights disease.

When you sleep, your body eliminates free radicals, your immune system strengthens itself, and your body and mind refresh themselves. As we get older, we tend to have more interrupted sleep. One reason is that we produce less melatonin, a hormone that controls our response to light and dark.

Melatonin supplements can help regulate your sleep cycles. From one to three mg of melatonin taken half an hour before bedtime is usually enough for a deep, restful sleep. For more information, read the articles on melatonin on my website:

But there’s much more you can do to help you sleep than take melatonin. If you simply make a few minor lifestyle changes, you’ll soon find the sleep you want and need. Some of these changes work by helping your body’s ability to produce more melatonin naturally. Others relax you so you can get to sleep more easily.

Change your diet
What you eat — especially at night — affects how you sleep. You may think that a sugary snack before bedtime is a good idea because it makes you sleepy. Well, it isn’t. Sugar initially raises your blood sugar and causes you to be alert. Then it drops and you get sleepy. Later in the night, when blood sugar levels drop still further, you may wake up and have difficulty getting back to sleep. Refined grains (white flour and white rice) and alcohol can have the same effect.

Instead, snack on a few whole grain crackers with a little cheese or an ounce or two of nuts or nut butter. Protein helps keep your blood sugar level while you sleep. A little fruit-sweetened yogurt, or a single piece of fruit, is also acceptable for nighttime snacks.

An afternoon cup of coffee or tea, or even a piece of chocolate, can keep you awake at night if you’re particularly sensitive to caffeine. Many people have an increased sensitivity with age. Avoid caffeine after noon. At most, drink a cup of green tea. Although green tea contains a little caffeine, many people find it doesn’t interfere with their sleep due to the theanine it contains.

Modify your environment
Prepare yourself for sleep an hour or two before you go to bed. Begin by turning down the lights. Darkness helps your body make melatonin. If you’re watching TV, don’t put on any bright lights in the room.

Of course, use good lighting for reading, but don’t read stimulating books or watch intense TV shows before bedtime. They can keep you awake. Sleep in a room that’s as dark as possible. Only use a night-light in your bathroom. If you turn on the overhead light, you’ll stop all melatonin production for the rest of the night. If necessary, wear an eye mask to block out light.

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 About The Author
Nan Fuchs, Ph.D. is an authority on nutrition and the editor and writer of Women's Health Letter, the leading health advisory on nutritional healing for......moreNan Fuchs PhD
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