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A healthy bedtime routine

I came across a post the other day on the excellent Roni’s Weigh  blog that asked readers “What are your UNhealthy Habits?” It was interesting to see that a lot of readers picked the same things, and that many of the habits centered on a person’s bedtime routine, such as not flossing at night, not removing makeup and/or washing your face.

I shouldn’t be surprised, though, given that I’m guilty of the same things. I’ve tried to trick myself into doing these things more consistently such as brushing/flossing right after dinner or putting face moisturizer on the nightstand, but after long days at work, good intentions go by the wayside.

So, I was curious what doctors thought about nighttime habits. Dr. Richard Lamson, a family medicine physician with Greater Baltimore Medical Center, offered his tips.

3 things never to skip before bed:
1. Dental hygiene (brush, floss, etc.): Overnight bacteria working on the leftovers in your teeth are a big source of dental plaque.  Dental disease is more than just what happens in your mouth, it also is implicated in heart disease and stroke.
2. A brief review of the day, and plan for tomorrow.  I find it helpful to think of at least one thing from today for which I am grateful, and it helps to get the worries about tomorrow out of my brain before trying to sleep.
3.  A few minutes of quiet meditation.  Pay attention to breathing, tight muscles, comfort.  This is not a time for thinking, worrying, planning.  Just be there and be aware.
3 things to skip before bed
1. Heavy meals: this can lead to acid reflux, increased absorption of calories, and overweight.  Also includes high-fat snacks.
2. Television, especially the news.  TV is very activating at a time when your brain should be going to sleep  TV news in particular is highly stressful.  Really, do you need to know about another bombing or murder just before you sleep?
3. Going online: perhaps even more activating than television, as it requires two-way participation.
Other helpful ideas:
Gentle stretching before bed can reduce muscle soreness the next morning.  No heavy exercise, just stretch your legs, low back, and neck and shoulders a bit.  This can reduce night cramps and restless legs, and enhance the meditation practice.
Good sex with a favorite partner can improve sleep.  Even just quiet conversation and cuddling helps.
Take the TV, computer, smart phone, etc. out of your bedroom.
Caffeine is often bad for sleep.  More than a small amount of alcohol can be activating.  Smoking can also keep you awake.
If you're the type who wakes up in the night and worries for a long time, put a pad of paper next to your bed.  When you wake up, write down what you're worried about, or the solution.  Then forget it and go back to sleep.  Meditate again if you want.
For help with implementation, it's always helpful to know what you're already doing.  I recommend a diary of whatever habit you're trying to break.  For example, if you overeat, keep a small notebook nearby where you write down what you're eating.  Looking at the week's food intake can help you plan how to avoid overeating.  Similarly, writing down what you're doing before going to sleep can sometimes help you find what you need to change.
Change one thing at a time.  For example, stop going online after 1 hour before bedtime.  Set a timer so you will turn off the computer or smart phone.  Keep a diary of your successes.

So, readers, tell us what you think below.

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