09/21/2008 05:12 am ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

Olympics Got Your Sleep?

The Olympic coverage isn't helping millions of Americans get to bed on time. There's nothing more stimulating that watching Michael Phelps's dash to gold and carving his name in the history books. The "live" coverage we see at night took place half a day ago around the world in Beijing, but NBC delivers the goods like a suspenseful mystery. Coming up, in about 45 minutes, Michael Phelps goes for his 6th gold... But before that, we'll turn to women's gymnastics where the Chinese are determined to beat the Americans... Will they do it? Find out!

No wonder a few of us are lagging in the morning this week. The Olympics aside, though, sleep evades as many as 70 million Americans on a regular basis. As noted recently by Consumer Reports, almost one in five Americans take prescription or over-the-counter medicines at least once a week to help them sleep better. Despite recommendations to limit the use of sleeping pills, some people find themselves downing a pill every single night to get to sleep. Yikes.

Drugs to help people sleep do have their place, but I agree with the article posted by Consumer Reports that there are alternatives to medications that I would implore all sleepless souls to try. Some of my favorites:

Try a sound machine. They have been shown to work wonders on people
who can't get to sleep easily, and who would otherwise resort to taking
something. These machines emit soothing sounds like trickling
waterfalls, oceanic waves, and chirping birds.

Play mind games. Count backwards from 300 by 3's. This is a
difficult task, and will distract you from thinking about your other
things. If worries are bothering you, write them down and then lie back
and pretend they are bubbles floating up through your body, which then
vanish. Feel the troubles float away as your body slips into sleep.

Moderate exercise and stretching before bed. Although some argue
that exercise can stimulate the body and prevent sleep, exercise can
reduce anxiety in some people. So it might be a good idea to experiment
with a mild to moderate exercise routine before bed. An evening,
low-intensity yoga or meditation class is also an option.

Have a soak. Try a hot bath or shower with aromatherapy (smelly bath salts) and low lighting (no candles--fire hazards).

Rub the day's tensions away. Ask for a massage from your spouse or bed partner.

And of course, try not to sit on the edge of your couch watching the
Olympics coverage if it means cutting into deep sleep. Do what I know
many are doing: cheat. Go online to find out who wins, and use a DVR
machine to record the events you want to see when you've got the time
to do so. (Or you can download those recordings, too, at The highlights are the best part. No commercials. You know all those Olympians are sure to get their sleep. What not you?

This article is cross-posted at Dr. Breus's official blog, The Insomnia Blog.

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