By Bob Condor

It’s Monday, time for another work week for many of us, maybe the final school month for others.

First order of business: Get a good night’s sleep.


Jim Maas is a long-time researcher at Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y. He says Americans treat sleep “like a luxury rather than a necessity.”

Getting enough rest, of course, makes a major difference in our morning alertness and all-day physical perfomance. Cases in point: Researchers have studied the sleep habits of Duluth (Minn.) high school students for many years, also testing them to determine how rest or lack of it has affected cognitive skills. There is a direct link between getting proper sleep and testing well and, more importantly, consistent with a student’s ability.

In fact, the sleep researchers’ evidence was enough to persuade Duluth school officials to roll back school starting times in the morning. The time change was not about coddling children but based on scientific findings that the hormonal system of adolescents actually prevents them from feeling sleepy much earlier than about 11 p.m. and frequently even a half-hour or hour later.

One fellow parent’s response when I told her this research bit: “Don’t tell my kids.”

A second case in point: Eric Chavez is a star third baseman for the Oakland Athletics major league baseball team. He has missed most of the regular season due to injury and was recalled last week to the major leagues after working out with the Oakland minor league affiliate team in Portland. Chavez received the surprise call to meet the major-league team for a game the next day. He took a red-eye, then proceeded to go hitless in four at-bats in the game.

Chavez’ manager and teammates were all smiles about his return, but the third baseman and power hitter himself was grumpy but matter-of-fact.

“I felt OK [at bat], but I really didn’t get enough sleep,” said Chavez. “I assume I will hit better if I just get some sleep.”

Was Chavez making excuses? Not by my estimation, just stating a fact he has learned about himself as a veteran elite athlete. He

needs his sleep to perform well. Hitting fastballs traveling at speeds of 90-plus miles-per-hour is tough enough; don’t make it harder by skimping on your eight hours.

For his part, Cornell’s Maas says 75 percent of Americans experience some form of insomnia two to three times per week, either not falling asleep successfully or staying asleep. For the DHB (Daily Health Blog), Maas imparted some ideas on how we can knock down that percentage—especially in our own households:

— Consider your daytime habits. Caffeine drinks past 2 p.m. can be problematic. Exercising within three hours of bedtime is a disrupter too.

— The three-hour limit applies to alcohol too. While researchers suggest a glass of wine can be healthful (moderation is vital), Maas says a nightcap is not sedative but acts as a stimulant. “You might fall asleep and get through a 90-minute cycle [our nights of rest come in 90-minute segments of deep and lighter sleep]. The second half of your sleep is most affected by alcohol.

— Keep your bedroom cool, 57 degrees is best. Keep noise minimal or constant at the least. Darkness is essential for falling asleep and signaling the body it’s time for deep rest. Don’t eat too much or too little within those three hours before bed.

— If you can’t fall asleep or fall back asleep within 10 minutes, then get out of bed. Do light housework or read, keeping the lights low. Return to bed once you get drowsy.

— One more idea from Maas: “I recommend that we all have a ‘worry time’ before bed. Write down all of your problems on a list. Then put them to rest on the nightstand.”

“Bob Condor is the Daily Health Blogger for Barton Publishing. He is also the Living Well columnist for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. He covers natural health and quality of life issues and writes regularly for national magazines, including Life, Esquire, Parade, Self, and Outside. He is a former syndicated health columnist for the Chicago Tribune and author of six books, including “The Good Mood Diet” and “Your Prostate Cancer Survivors' Guide.” He lives in the Pacific Northwest with his wife and two 11-year-old kids.”