Sleep Success: A Doctor’s Tips for a Better Night’s Sleep

Our writer got a list of doctor-approved sleep tips from a specialist at Jefferson University Hospital. Naturally, she tried them out.

To really get going in the morning, I need my unsweetened iced tea with lemon from Dunkin’ Donuts and a great song on Pandora. But that’s not the problem—the problem comes before this routine, when I actually have to drag myself out of bed. Even though an hour was just added to our sleep time (thank you, daylight savings), the extended night does little to overshadow the dark, cold winter mornings we have to look forward to in the next few months.

I wanted to know: How can I wake up and crawl out from under my warm covers feeling brighter, well-rested and—dare I say it—happier?

I asked Karl Doghramji, medical director at Jefferson’s Sleep Disorders Center, for tips on how to get the kick-in-the-butt I need in the a.m. He came back with a solid list of do’s and don’ts, and some tricks for getting the Zzzzs I need.

So I did what any good reporter would do: I tried them out. Here’s how it went.

Night 1: The Don’ts

I figured starting off by doing many of the don’ts on my first night would really put the do’s to the test in the upcoming nights. It was fitting that I just so happened to have a long night of work ahead of me, so it was already going to be a late one.

For the record, here are the things Dr. Doghramji advised me to avoid.

• Alcohol
• Caffeine, nicotine and other stimulants
• Exposure to bright light during the night
• Exercise within three hours of bedtime
• Heavy meals or drinking within three hours of bedtime
• Using your bed for things other than sleep (or sex)
• Napping, unless a you’re shiftworker. (I’m not, boo.)
• Watching the clock
• Noise
• Excessive heat or cold in the room

My plan: do a late-night gym session and follow up it with the ultimate oxymoron, a Big Mac from McDonald’s and a Coke. I also left my window open, my light on and proceeded to work on my laptop in bed. Finally, for the grand finale, I checked the clock every few minutes and played a movie on my laptop.

This might seem extreme at first blush, but I have to admit that this type of night is not particularly foreign to me.

The next morning, I was feeling pretty rough from my fast-food-induced hangover and lack of quality sleep. Even worse, I had to be up at 7 a.m. Silver lining: I now had good motivation to get cracking on the tips.

Night 2: Sunglasses

One of Doghramji’s tips was minimizing the amount of light exposure you get before going to bed. It’s okay to watch a little TV at the end of the day, but dim the lights around you. Doghramji suggested a creative way to eliminate light: wear sunglasses.

As I queued up episode of Dexter I’d missed, I curled up with more than just my blanket: I sported my oversize sunglasses and a cup of tea, too. I intermittently giggled at myself throughout the show but I felt relaxed and sleepy when it was over.

Doghramji also recommends establishing a comfortable sleep environment. So after the show, I stole extra pillows and blankets from around the house and made the ultimate bird’s nest. I shut the windows and blinds and was so comfortable that the next thing I knew, my alarm was going off.

I woke up, stretched and felt completely rested and relaxed. It still took me a minute to get up, but for once I wasn’t angry at the world. Whether it was the sunglasses, warm tea, bird’s nest or a combo of the three, I’m not really sure. But I was ready for day three.

Night 3: There’s nothing like a morning run

Although exercise within three hours of bedtime isn’t good, Doghramji recommends it early in the a.m., at midday or, if you’re up for it, at both times.

So after waking up in my bird’s nest I decided to go for an early morning run. A lap around Pennypack Park on a chilly morning will really get you going. I have to admit, I wasn’t crazy about getting out of my comfortable bed (who is?) but I was well rested. By the time I got home, showered and left the house, I was starving and wide awake. The run not only helped me wake up, it give my metabolism a boost, too.

When I got home that night, I decided to take a warm bath—another one of Doghramji’s tips—to soak my sore muscles. The mix of the good, early workout and relaxing bath at the end of the day had me sleeping like a baby. I think I’ll stick to these tips.

Night 4: This book is boring

For Doghramji’s final set of tips, I was to read boring book before bed and set aside some worry time earlier in my day.

I was feeling pretty good on morning four. I had a great workout and had been sleeping well all week. I don’t know about you, but during the week there’s a lot going on and a lot on my mind, and sometimes it’s really tough to relax and regroup. I tried taking a good 20 minutes when I got home from work to just lounge on my couch in silence and reflect on my day. I often do this right before bed, which means a later bedtime—Doghramji says lots of people fall into this trap. The idea is that by doing this earlier in the evening, it will save me from thinking about worries later on.

After my reflection time, I ate dinner, did some work on my lap top (at the table, not in my bed), and finished the night off with a “boring book.” Now, a boring book is different for everyone but I dug deep for this one—literally. I looked through the pile of books in my closet and found the perfect contender: my high school science text book.

It worked like a charm: I woke up with the book in my bed because I’d fallen asleep reading it. Success!