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Baylor College of Medicine News

Sleep Q&A

Experts at Baylor College of medicine address important sleep issues.

What foods should you avoid before bedtime?

You should avoid consuming caffeine and its equivalents. This includes coffee, tea, iced tea and sodas. Large doses of chocolate also have caffeine and should be avoided if falling asleep is a concern.

You should also avoid eating large meals two to three hours prior to bedtime. These meals can cause other problems that will keep you awake, including heartburn. Research also shows that obesity is tied to nocturnal eating. Rather than high calorie snacks, try eating fruits or vegetables if you're hungry at nighttime.

You shouldn't go to bed hungry, because that also can keep you awake at night.

What should you do if you're frequently waking up at night?

Waking up frequently throughout the night can be caused by several things. It could be as simple as your auditory threshold is low and you need a white noise machine to provide an ambient noise level. However, it could be something like obstructive sleep apnea, which can have serious side effects, or another medical condition. It's important to see a sleep expert if you're frequently waking up at night.

What if you have trouble waking up in the morning? What if you can sleep in for several extra hours on the weekend?

If you have trouble waking up, it means that your body wants more sleep. "Sleep debt" is the amount of sleep that your body is not getting in the week, and you're making up for it on the weekends. This issue needs to be addressed during the week by being sure you get seven to eight hours of sleep on the weekdays.

What if you wake up at night and have trouble falling back asleep? What should you do?

This is a rather common complaint. Prevention is the key here, so if you can address whatever it is that is causing you to wake up at night, there wouldn't be so much of a concern. After the first few hours of sleep, your drive to fall asleep is no longer as high as it was initially, so it is not uncommon to take more time to fall asleep after waking up at night. Relaxation techniques and other therapies tailored to insomnia may be of benefit. Evaluation for depression should also be considered.

Is snoring really an issue?

Snoring should be considered as a sign of airway obstruction during sleep. Snorers may have nothing more than just snoring; however, arousals from sleep, cessations in airflow, and low oxygen levels may be present. Especially for individuals who have other suggestions of more significant airflow obstruction such as obesity, high blood pressure, stroke, heart disease, or for patients with daytime sleepiness, further evaluation with a sleep study is recommended.

Is sleep walking or talking an issue?

While sleep walking and sleep talking may be a benign condition, especially in children, evaluation by a sleep disorders specialist should be considered to ensure that there are no other medical conditions contributing to these parasomnias.

Can changing locations in the middle of the night help you sleep better?

Changing locations in the middle of the night may be of benefit if there is some comfort aspect that is better addressed in the new location. Ideally, such comfort aspects should be addressed in the primary sleeping area. If changing locations in the middle of the night is being done to address a concern such as breathing difficulties, then a visit to a primary care physician or sleep disorders specialist should be encouraged.

What are tips for those who work night shifts?

Nightshift workers may have no difficulties working at nighttime and sleeping during the day. However, many individuals encounter difficulty working nightshifts because they are doing something that the body is not comfortable doing. Some suggestions to improve your body's ability to adjust to working at night include working in a brightly lit environment, wearing dark sunglasses on the way home from work, and sleeping in a cool dark environment during the day. Additionally, some individuals may benefit from sleeping for four hours immediately after getting home from work in the morning followed by another four hour sleep period in the afternoon.