War anxieties can cause sleep loss

By Gail Meadows Knight Ridder Newspapers (KRT) Can’t sleep because of stress over the war? Turn off the radio and TV two hours before bedtime. Avoid alcohol. Cut back on caffeine. Give up nicotine four hours before bedtime. If that sort of common sense doesn’t work, be tougher on yourself, sleep experts say. Turn off the cell phone, avoid heavy meals, turn the bedroom clock toward the wall and give yourself a little extra commuting time to avoid road rage. The American Academy of Sleep Medicine, based in Westchester, Ill., says war anxieties can bring on any number of disorders, including insomnia, excessive daytime sleepiness and difficulty falling asleep. “Our ability to think clearly … can be compromised,” said Dr. Michael Sateia, director of the Sleep Disorders Center at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center in Lebanon, N.H. That can lead to irritability, mood swings, short-term memory lapses, difficulty in focusing on a task and errors in judgment. “Accept this (war) situation as uniformly stressful,” said Dr. Rodney Benjamin, medical director of the Sleep Lab at South Miami Hospital. “If you’re completely unbothered by it, that’s abnormal.” After coming to grips, “impose some very strict personal limits on yourself,” added Dr. Daniel Armstrong, director of the University of Miami’s Mailman Center for Child Development. Among those: _Stick to your normal, sleep-wake schedule. _Exercise early in your day, not late. _Talk through your concerns with your family and friends. _Engage in a calming, pleasant routine such as taking a quiet bath before bedtime. _Read in a chair, not the bed, and avoid spy thrillers. _Turn off all lights before getting into bed. _If you toss and turn, get up, keep lights and noise to a minimum, and do something silent and monotonous, such as ironing, for 15 or 20 minutes. “We don’t want to miss anything, so it takes a little self-control to do these things,” Armstrong said. Benjamin went further. “Americans work themselves to death, never get enough sleep and commute far too long a distance to work,” he said. “There’s nothing wrong with giving yourself a little TLC.” A dip in a sauna or a hot whirlpool for half an hour would be divine, said Dr. Alejandro Chediak, director of the Sleep Disorder Center at Mount Sinai Medical Center in Miami Beach. But it would need to be done at least three hours before bedtime so the body could adequately cool down for peaceful rest, he said. “In the end, what you want to do is find a distraction that will strengthen your natural need for sleep,” Chediak said. “You must get your mind away from things that are distressing you.” When people turn to alcohol to anesthetize themselves from anxieties, it’s the worst thing they can do, said Dr. Steve Shapiro, medical director of the Sleep Disorder Center at North Broward (Fla.) Medical Center. “It actually does induce sleep, but it’s very inefficient sleep,” Shapiro said. “You wake up multiple times during the night and get up in the morning exhausted.” Sleeping pills are also a no-no. “They’re meant only for a couple of days of short-term relief,” Shapiro said. If you’ve never taken them before, they can have a hangover effect. People using medication who find themselves in the car, turning up the radio to stay awake, “really shouldn’t be driving,” Shapiro said. One method of thinking through how to handle the war stress is to envision reading to small children before bedtime. One would never have a cell phone interrupting or a TV blaring during those hushed moments, Armstrong reminded. Adults can apply the same restrictions to themselves, he said. Chediak recommended two Web sites _ for the National Sleep Foundation and the American Academy of Sleep Medicine _ for anyone twitching through the night. They are www.sleepfoundation.org and www.assmnet.org Benjamin said, “Most of the population goes to sleep after watching the 11 o’clock news. It can be very violent and repetitive; it’s of no value.” Better to “read about it in the newspaper the next morning where it’s greatly distilled, with much less speculation.” But, he added, “Americans aren’t very good at common sense.” ___ ‘copy 2003, The Miami Herald. Visit The Miami Herald Web edition on the World Wide Web at http://www.herald.com/ Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.