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An expert's suggestions for getting proper sleep

resting tiger


The specter of cancer, the intricacies of treatment and the side effects can create enormous stress — which can lead to nights spent tossing and turning instead of sleeping.

Antonio Culebras, MD

Antonio Culebras, MD

If that describes you, or someone you love, proper management may help, says Antonio Culebras, MD, a neurologist and medical neurology director of the Upstate Sleep Center. Your doctor may be willing to prescribe hypnotic medicines, or sleeping pills, but that is the last resort.

“You have to sleep,” Culebras emphasizes. “Once you have slept, then you can deal with other problems, but first of all you have to sleep.”

Sleep quality is measured by duration, continuity and depth. If your sleep is disrupted by nightmares, loud snoring or anxiety, it may be too fragmented to be good quality. Poor sleep can impact physical, mental and emotional capabilities the next day.

Culebras says it‘s important to be disciplined about sleep. The World Sleep Society gives this advice:

1. Establish a regular bedtime and waking time.

2. If you are in the habit of napping, do not exceed 45 minutes of daytime sleep.

3. Avoid excessive alcohol ingestion four hours before bedtime and do not smoke.

4. Avoid caffeine six hours before bedtime. This includes coffee, tea and many sodas, as well as chocolate.

5. Avoid heavy, spicy or sugary foods four hours before bedtime. A light snack before bed is acceptable.

6. Exercise regularly, but not right before bed.

7. Use comfortable, inviting bedding.

8. Find a comfortable sleep temperature setting and keep the bedroom well ventilated.

9. Block out all distracting noise and eliminate as much light as possible.

10. Reserve your bed for sleep and sex, avoiding its use for work or general recreation.

How much sleep do you need in 24 hours?

Giraffes: 5 to 30 minutes

Horses: 2¼ hours

Humans: 7 to 9 hours

Sloth: 10 to 15 hours

Tigers: 18 hours

Koalas: 14¼ to 22 hours

Sources: Antonio Culebras, MD, neurologist and medical neurology director of the Upstate Sleep Center; bbc.com/earth

Cancer Care magazine winter 2019 coverThis article appears in the winter 2019 issue of Cancer Care magazine.