Even though the Valley’s annual Trailing of the Sheep festival is months away, many of us find ourselves counting woolly creatures this time of year. Between those nine o’clock sunsets, the barbeque circuit and summer travel, it can be easy to fall behind on sleep, says board-certified sleep specialist Kimberly Vorse, M.D., owner and director of the Sun Valley Pain and Sleep Center in Ketchum. And without proper rest, you’re bound to feel like a zombie.
If you’re getting eight hours of shut-eye each night, don’t assume that you’re in the clear. After a good night’s sleep, you should feel rested and refreshed. If not, you may not be spending enough time in the deepest stages of slumber. “People often believe that if they go to sleep and stay asleep, they don’t have a problem,” Vorse explains. “But in addition to the number of hours, you need to pay attention to your sleep quality.”
Many times, sleep woes can be solved through lifestyle changes, Vorse says. For example, you should go to bed and get up at about the same time every day. Keep your bedroom dark, cool and quiet, and use your bed only for sleep and sex, not watching TV or paying bills. Avoid caffeine after noon, and don’t eat a heavy meal, drink alcohol, or exercise strenuously close to bedtime. And before hitting the sack, ease your body into la-la land with a relaxing activity such as reading a book or meditating.
If those strategies fail, you could try taking valerian root, an herb with sedative properties, for temporary relief. And if your body clock is out of whack from traveling, a small dose of the hormone melatonin could help you get back on track. But taking them on a regular basis isn’t a good idea, Vorse says. The long-term side effects are unknown. Plus, it could delay you from identifying and treating the underlying problem. Talk to your doctor or pharmacist before using any natural remedy, as they can interact with certain medications, including antihistamines, tranquilizers and anti-anxiety drugs.
If you have trouble nodding off, over-the-counter products containing diphenhydramine (an antihistamine), such as Tylenol Simply Sleep or Excedrin PM, may help. However, they will also compromise your sleep quality, so use them sparingly, Vorse advises. Likewise, some prescription sleep aids like Lunesta and Ambien can be effective in extreme cases of insomnia, but they shouldn’t be taken for more than a week or so.
If your sleeplessness lasts longer than a few weeks, it’s time to see a doctor or sleep specialist to determine the cause. Anxiety, allergies, a deviated septum, or sleep apnea could be factors. Depending on your situation, you may want to undergo a study in the sleep lab at the Sun Valley Pain and Sleep Center, which involves using a special machine to measure brain waves, heart and lung function, muscle movement, and depth of sleep. As of now, all insurance companies cover it, Vorse says—and it could be key to getting the rest you need.