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Beauty Sleep Dilemma

By Catherine Winters
Posted On Nov 11, 2020
Beauty Sleep Dilemma

Sleeping Beauty

Stellar slumber is your key to looking and feeling fab.

Do you have sleep lust? Do you lie in bed, staring at the ceiling, counting sheep (or woes, or deadlines) until your weary mind begrudgingly gives up a few hours of shut-eye? You’re not alone: Some 48 percent of Americans have occasional insomnia; 22 percent experience it every, or almost every, night, reports the National Sleep Foundation. Meanwhile, experts say we need seven to nine hours a night to be at our best. What’s a stressed out insomniac to do? Rest easy. The answers might be right under your pillow.

Sleep Problems

Lack-of-sleep issues are lumped into two categories: acute insomnia and chronic insomnia. Acute (or occasional) insomnia comes upon a person suddenly—when you’re stressed at work, you’ve had a spat with your partner, or you’re worried about paying the mortgage. When the crisis resolves, it’s back to Dreamland.

Meanwhile, chronic insomnia is unremitting. “The bed can become a big, scary monster,” says Ryan G. Wetzler, Psy.D., director of behavioral sleep medicine at Sleep Medicine Specialists in Louisville, KY. Lots of things can cause it—from the usual suspects (stress and anxiety) to pain, noise, and sleep apnea. Experts define chronic insomnia as difficulty falling or staying asleep for three or more nights a week, for a month or longer, and being unable to function during the day.

The Sleep-Health Equation In a 2010 study, Orfeu M. Buxton, Ph.D., an associate neuroscientist in the division of sleep and circadian disorders at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, MA, found that people who slept seven to eight hours a night were less likely to become obese or develop diabetes, hypertension, and cardiovascular disease than people who slept less (or more) than that.

Being sleepy isn’t good for the waistline, either. In 2008, Chinese researchers reported that people who slept less than seven hours per day ate more fatty foods than people who snoozed seven to nine hours. And U.S. researchers discovered that sleep-deprived people downed 42 percent more calories in the form of after-dinner snacks. Earlier this year, a study published in the journal Stroke reported that insomniacs had a 54 percent higher risk of stroke than people who were well rested.

Another recent study in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine turned up similar scary findings. This found that over a 20-year period, people with moderate to severe sleep apnea were four times more likely to die or suffer a stroke; three times more likely to die of cancer; and two and a half times more likely to develop some form of cancer.

The list of health problems caused by poor sleep goes on. You’re more likely to be depressed or overreact, more sensitive to pain, and more apt to be involved in a car crash. You have trouble remembering or concentrating. And according to a recent study in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, people with sleep apnea have nearly three times the risk of developing osteoporosis than people who don’t have apnea.

A Better Sleep Game Plan

“Sleep is one of our fundamental drives, like hunger and thirst,” says Dr. Buxton. “Getting good sleep enables many positive things to happen.” Improve yours with these strategies:


Go to bed and get up at the same time every day, and schedule an hour to wind down before you turn in. Dim lights and turn off the TV, computer, and iPhone. Make sure your mattress and pillow are comfortable and your bedroom is quiet, dark, and cool.

“At night, your body temperature drops,” says Dr. Shelby Harris, director of the behavioral sleep medicine program at the Sleep-Wake Disorders Center at Montefiore Medical Center in the Bronx, NY. “If you’re in a warm room, it’s harder for your body to do what it needs to do in order for you to sleep.” And watch the naps. A 20-minute power nap is fine if you’re wiped out. Any longer and you may not doze off at a decent hour.


At Northwestern University in Chicago, IL, women with insomnia who did aerobic exercise like walking or jogging for two 20-minute sessions or one 30- to 40-minute session, four times a week for four months, fell asleep faster, slept longer, and spent less time awake in bed. And sun-down is the sweet spot: Work-out four to six hours before bedtime says Dr. Harris. “Exercise warms up your body and as it cools down, you feel tired.” And on the topic of sweat, who hasn’t felt sleepy after a good session in the sack? Sex boosts your levels of oxytocin, which lowers stress, heart rate, and lets you slumber soundly.


Backlit displays on electronics such as iPads and smartphones suppress melatonin levels by about 22 percent, explains Mariana G. Figueiro, Ph.D., director of the Lighting Research Center’s Light and Health Program at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, NY. The solution: Power down at least two hours before bedtime, or opt for a black background with white font to dim the device. Also, hold these gadgets at least 14 inches from your face. “The closer a device is to your eyes, the more light exposure you are going to get,” says Dr. Figueiro.


Northwestern University researchers found that women with insomnia who practiced Kriya yoga meditation for 15 to 20 minutes, twice a day for two months, saw their total sleep time increase from 367 to 443 minutes. The time it took for them to nod off dropped from 74 to 24 minutes.


Steer clear of caffeine at least six hours before bed. And be sure to check labels of the items you ingest. Caffeine can lurk in unlikely places, such as gum and medication. Caffeine Zone, an app for Apple and Android devices, can tell you when you’ll get a pick-me-up from your caffeine fix and when your sleep will likely be affected.


While alcohol makes you sleepy, you may wake up once it has metabolized. Even if you don’t fully rise, you won’t sleep as deeply after imbibing, says Dr. Harris. Your best bet: Don’t drink within two to three hours of bedtime. And know your limits. If you walk around in a fog the morning after you’ve two glasses of wine, just have one next time.


A 2008 study in CHEST reported that smokers are four times more likely than nonsmokers to feel unrested in the morning. Also, nicotine has a stimulating effect that makes it hard for a person to drift off. As it slowly leaves your body, you’ll experience sleepdisturbing nicotine withdrawal.


Cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia (CBT-I) resets the systems that regulate sleep, explains Dr. Wetzler. Deep breathing eases stress. CBT-I works fast—in as few as five to six 30- to 60-minute sessions every other week—and is more effective than any kind of sleep medication.



Though sleep apnea has been widely studied, little is known about a milder form of the condition called upper airway resistance syndrome, or UARS. With UARS, breathing pauses occur—but not as many as with sleep apnea.

During these pauses, people move out of deep sleep and into light sleep, according to Steven Y. Park, M.D., attending physician at Montefiore Medical Center’s otolaryngology and sleep medicine department, UARS leaves you feeling stressed and exhausted.

It raises the risk of conditions such as sinus problems, digestive issues (such as constipation or diarrhea and bloating), and low blood pressure. Like sleep apnea, it can only be diagnosed during a sleep study, but there are clues, such as a small jaw, chronic nasal congestion, a thin neck, and trouble sleeping on your back.


Melatonin. This adjusts the body’s sleep-wake clock. Try 2 milligrams of sustained release melatonin one to two hours before bedtime. Use for up to six months without adverse effects.

Valerian. Try 200 to 500 milligrams of valerian extract (standardized to 0.8 percent valerenic acid) before bedtime. Check the label for dosing directions.

5-HTP (5-hydroxytryptophan). This amino acid helps produce serotonin and melatonin. Try 100 to 150 milligrams. before bedtime. Avoid if you’re taking psychiatric meds, especially antidepressants. Limit use to four to six weeks.

Magnesium. A magnesium deficiency can cause sleep problems. One study found that older people who took 500 milligrams of magnesium daily for eight weeks fell asleep faster, slept longer, and were less likely to awaken early.

Lemon balm. This herb helps calm you. Look for a product that combines lemon balm and valerian root.

Chamomile. A member of the daisy family, this ancient herb is used for everything from hay fever to insomnia. Try a cup of chamomile tea about a half hour