Eyes heavy? If not, get TV out of bedroom

When I was in college, a hypnotist came to entertain us. I was chosen to go up, and I did– unwillingly. The hypnotist had a Barry White type of voice, and he wooed me a little with his, "You are becoming sleepy. Your eyes are heavy."

I don't know about the other contestants on the stage, but I was not hypnotized. I felt like I just had an espresso with Sudafed. When I told the hypnotist that I was not hypnotized, he said, "It must be because English isn't your first language." That comment made the audience boo at him. Little did he know that Hungarian is my first language...

Some people just don't sleep well. The fight to sleep and stay asleep can be more frustrating than trying to figure out IRS tax forms. As we age, our sleeping abilities tend to decrease. It should be the exact opposite! When we are young and studious, we should be able to work 20 hours a day and need only four hours of sleep. When we're retired, we should be able to sleep all we want.

However, many of my elderly patients say, "Doc, I need a sleeping pill. I can't sleep." I ask, "What time do you go to bed and what time do you wake up?" The response is usually, "I go to bed around 8pm, fall asleep 9pm and get up 3am."

The elderly person will tell me that he's not sleepy all day and feels fine, but the main problem is boredom. With all the time in the world, loneliness and boredom often accompany retirement. With nothing going on late at night– except Cher infomercials– the person prefers to sleep.

Working people who can't sleep well might have medical reasons for insomnia such as sleep apnea, depression, alcohol or drug use, anxiety, caffeine use, or poor sleeping hygiene. I talk to my patients about sleeping hygiene– the various ways people use their bedroom– and I find that most people who have insomnia watch TV in their bedrooms. Watching TV stimulates the RAS (reticular activating system) of the brain, and that keeps the person awake.

My patients think I'm wrong about that, because they usually say they fall asleep in front of the TV. However, the patient cannot stay asleep and when she wakes up, she watches more TV.

An article in The New England Journal of Medicine stated the bedroom should be used for only two things: sleep and sex. (I think changing clothes should be included.) If you hold your frustrations inside your bedroom, you take them to bed. The bedroom should be a place of peace and quiet for a good night's sleep. However, asking those with TVs in the bedroom to put them someplace else is like asking them to sell their pets to the local butcher. "TV is my best friend, doc!" they say.

I usually recommend reading for an hour before bed or doing something relaxing like meditation or yoga. If my patients were like Laura Ingalls Wilder on Little House on the Prairie, they would probably already be taking my advice.

However, in a world of Gameboys and Satellite TV, my advice ranks up there with things like, "Live without electricity," "Trade your bathroom for an outhouse," and "Sell your car." Very few of my patients are wiling to change their lifestyle to improve their sleeping habits– except for one: avoid daytime naps.

Exercise can help a person sleep better as well, as long as it's not done too late. I usually exercise between 7 and 9pm and sleep like a log. Avoiding caffeine after 3pm is beneficial if you go to sleep around 11pm. Waking up the same time everyday is very important.

My patients listen to me, think for a minute about what I've said, and then say, "Nah, just give me Ambien."