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Can't fall asleep? Try exercise before sleeping pills

Consumer Reports News: March 07, 2013 08:08 AM

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Sleep problems keeping you up at night? Exercise, no matter the level or time of day, might help, according to a poll by the National Sleep Foundation released this week. It found that people who exercise, whether light or vigorous, early in the day or right before bed, sleep better than people who don't exercise at all.

Those who exercised were more likely to say "I had a good night's sleep" every night or almost every night on work-out nights compared with non-exercisers. More than three-fourths of exercisers said their sleep quality was very good or fairly good, compared with just over half of non-exercisers.

Insomnia is a serious health problem. Lack of sleep can make you foggy and grumpy during the day, but if the problem persists, other more serious health issues might arise, such as heart problems, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, and even weight gain.

For more on improving your quality of sleep, read about the secrets of good sleepers and our Best Buy Drugs advice for sleep problems. And if you're in the market for a new mattress, check out our Ratings of a dozen popular brands.

That's why it's important to deal with sleep problems when they begin. Start with lifestyle changes. Our recent online survey found that, for problem sleepers, regular exercise, meditation, yoga, and deep-breathing exercises helped a lot. Other simple lifestyle changes, like waking up at the same time every day, taking time to unwind before bedtime, and using a white-noise machine, helped, too.

If nondrug measures aren't working, it may be time to consider a sleep medication. For a short-term sleep problem such as jet lag, our Consumer Reports Best Buy Drug recommendation is to first try a nonprescription sleep drug that contains diphenhydramine (Benadryl, Sominex, Unisom and generic). If after a few nights, you're not back on track and you want to try a prescription medication, talk with your doctor about trying a low dose of zolpidem (Ambien and generic), our CR Best Buy recommendation. But use caution, since they can interact with other medications and can cause side effects, like next-day drowsiness, dizziness and dependency, and even worsen your sleeping problems when misused, or taken too often.

That said, people with persistent, chronic insomnia--three or more nights a week for months--should seek treatment. Consider cognitive behavioral therapy, a form of psychotherapy, which research shows, can improve insomnia.

Sleep in America® poll [National Sleep Foundation]

Ginger Skinner

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