Dealing With Sleep Troubles

Wednesday, April 02, 2014

sleeping, dreaming (Toni Blay/flickr)

Shelby Harris, director of the Behavioral Sleep Medicine Program at Montefiore Medical Center, takes calls on what you might try if you're not getting enough good sleep.


Shelby Harris

Comments [48]


Please let the very bright and helpful Dr. Harris know that the correct grammar is "lying," not "laying," in bed.

Apr. 03 2014 09:45 PM
Dennis from NJ

Six months ago a snoring problem prompted me to see a ENT which resulted in my having a Sleep Study which resulted in a diagnosis of Sleep Apnea(the "good" kind as opposed to the "bad" -stopping breathing during the night) which has resulted in my getting a CPAP which has resulted in much better sleep which has resulted in feeling much more rested during the day. The bottom line is that a rather sizable number of people are out there with undiagnosed/untreated sleep conditions which, when properly addressed, can greatly enhance one's health and quality of life. I found the medical model approach most valuable - my internist referred me to a ENT who referred me for a Sleep Study and I am now under the care of a excellent pulmonologist who specializes in sleep disorders...and Medicare covers everything.

Apr. 02 2014 06:20 PM
Rajul from Manhattan


Thank you for an informative and interesting show.

I had three questions:

-is there a cutoff time for drinking fluids that would minimize or eliminate nighttime bathroom visits?
-can taking a nap ruin your nighttime sleep? Are there circumstances where this might apply? I was born in India, and my mom has religiously been taking afternoon naps, with no apparent adverse effect on her normal sleep schedule. She sleeps easily and deeply.
-can one build up negative associations with one's bed? I've been sick the past few days, and last night, I kept waking up thinking about my students. I crazily repeated short sentences in my head, as if I had decided on a course of therapy for them. But I just couldn't go back to sleep, despite trying a couple times. Then, I went and lay down on my living room futon. My thoughts about my students went away and I slept better when I returned to my bed.


Apr. 02 2014 02:22 PM
carla from Italy

I'm an ex-new yorker now living in Italy where i often stream WNYC. listening to your sleep program i thought i'd add the following to the discussion.

i work with Bach Flower Remedies. One if these, WHITE CHESTNUT is indicated for the 'broken record syndrome' - a perfect description of what often occurs when your brains does a 'gotcha' when it realizes you are ready for sleep. Bach has now added this flower to their well-known RESCUE REMEDY calling it RESCUE REMEDY NIGHT & it can be found as drops, tablets or in spray format. It apparently works quite well.

Another method that might work is Self-Hypnosis. i was taught this method in order to quit smoking. Decide on a short phrase & memorize it. Tuck your right thumb loosely in the palm of your hand, then recite the phrase to yourself - in whatever language you use - followed by saying what you wish, what you want to happen - & then count backwards from 32-1. Repeat your phrase & your wish. You can repeat this until you are relaxed & actually asleep.

also, check that your sleep position is allowing you to relax properly - the yoga position Shavasana is ideal & there are yoga methods for relaxation if interested.

Fixation on sleep, like fixation on diet, etc is guaranteed to produce anxiety & stress, a total waste of energy & time. I'm a night owl who has always had to live in an early bird world. now that's been really difficult.

Apr. 02 2014 11:58 AM
Salaam Bhatti from islip

Before I go to sleep I turn off my wireless router which is right next to my bed. I am a little concerned that since sleeping is such a vulnerable state for us, that I encounter all day every day but since I am alert and awake I feel like it might not be as harmful. My second question is about the fit bit wristbands. I understand that it gives off a Bluetooth frequency. When I sleep and I keep wearing that does that have any harmful effects on my brain ?

Apr. 02 2014 11:46 AM
Jayena from Irvine, CA

I've been having trouble adjusting to daylight savings time, esp since I've gotten used to getting up with the sun, which is now an hour later for me. Any suggestions?

Apr. 02 2014 11:40 AM
KR from Brooklyn

I'm wondering about the lack of importance today's parents of young children place on sleep. I seem to be at odds with many of my mommy peers-I do naps at home on regular times, and bedtime is now 7:30 almost without exception. Most parents I know don't place an importance on regular naps even for babies, they nap their babies wherever, whenever. Bedtimes are as late as the parents bedtime. Just so very curious-good rest is as important to a child's brain development as proper nutrition. And the results seem to be more ADD and depressive disorders. So frustrating to always be the odd mommy out. :) am I crazy?

Apr. 02 2014 11:39 AM
Rudi from Queens

An incidental drawback in artificial ambient noise: I once went to sleep listening to "Rain in the Forest." It was more to drown out snoring in a ski lodge dorm situation than to induce sleep. I almost missed skiing that morning because when I woke up, I rolled over, thinking it was raining. If I ever do that again, I'll choose "Sounds of the Airport."

Apr. 02 2014 11:39 AM
Jen from Manhattan

On bathing 1.5-2 hours before birth based on a Japanese study -- yeah, but the baths in Japan are SO much better than our shallow, too-short bathtubs (esp. in NYC-sized apartments). In every home in Japan that I saw, the tub is very deep so you can fully immerse, unlike here. So, not sure if Japanese study would apply here.

Apr. 02 2014 11:38 AM

I love this series!
Could you talk about marijuana's effect on sleep? I used to smoke pot every day and slept well. I recently quit and have been having a terrible time with falling asleep and grinding my teeth at night. Sometimes I feel like my mouthguard makes me grind my teeth more at night. Also, how important is it to go to bed and wake up at the same time every day?

Apr. 02 2014 11:38 AM
Ian from Brooklyn

Long hot shower puts me into a coma...i love it.

Apr. 02 2014 11:37 AM
Nancy Tuck from Naples Florida

Why when I get up during the night I can't get back to sleep a lot of the time because I can't get a song out of my head. It's not the same song every night. And, it's not necessarily a song I heard before I went to sleep. How do I get rid of it?

Apr. 02 2014 11:36 AM
Alan from New York

I tend to sleep from 8 to 8 1/2 hours a night. My cardiologist encouraged me to sleep not more than 6 1/2 or 7 hours a night, saying that people who sleep 6 1/2 to 7 hours live longer. Is that true? If so, do we know which is the cause and which the effect? It seems to me that people whose bodies need less sleep may be healthier or stronger and thus may live longer. If that's the case, I would think that forcing oneself to sleep less won't help and may even hurt.

Apr. 02 2014 11:34 AM
rudi from Queens

About white noise all night. Don't the ears need a rest, too? Can constant noise induce tinnitis? (Correct of not, I've heard that tinnitis isn't actually "hearing" a sound; it's the brain producing a "sound" when it things there should be one.)

Apr. 02 2014 11:31 AM
darrie from nyc

for years I have been listening to non-fiction audio books -- fiction pulls you forward into the story... non-fiction can be dipped into and picked up at random, biographies and memoirs (unless they're too racy) work best... works like a charm... when I have to share a bed or room, I use a "pillow speaker"... ALSO after 40 years I've started wearing a sleep mask... makes early morning sleep much deeper... I live in NYC and there is lots of ambient light in my apartment, and daylight as I sleep late...
thanks for your wonderful show...

Apr. 02 2014 11:31 AM
Liz from Brooklyn

Can you speak to long term sleep deprivation for parents with newborns and how long it takes to replenish a 'sleep debt' like this?

Apr. 02 2014 11:29 AM


What are your thoughts on melatonin? I just started taking it according to my doctor's instructions: 1 mg 3 hours before bedtime.

I have had varied results and not sure how much I can play around with the timing. Sometimes I find that the melatonin makes me pass out earlier than the three hours. Unfortunately, I'm still waking up around 5 a.m. just fewer times than when I have disrupted sleep without the melatonin.

Apr. 02 2014 11:28 AM
Truth & Beauty from Brooklyn

I can't stand this any more: The expressing "LAYING in bed." Laying in bed is what a chicken does when it lays an egg in your bed. People LIE in bed. Please, Brian, both you and your guest need to update your grammar and usage - especially a sleep researcher who doesn't know the difference between LYING in bed and LAYING in bed.

Apr. 02 2014 11:26 AM
Pat from Pittsburgh

I just count backwards from 100.

Apr. 02 2014 11:24 AM
ROSEY from norwalk ct

Some times if I am up way too late and I know I will get limited sleep. I will lie to my self, not look at the clock and say it's really only 11pm or 10pm and that I will get plenty of rest and feel refreshed in the am. This often helps.

Apr. 02 2014 11:24 AM

Why is getting up at the same time each day important?

Apr. 02 2014 11:23 AM
ann in nyc from Manhattan

Oh, boy! I'm afraid just listening to this program will give me bigger sleep problems! I only have little, occasional ones, so far.

Apr. 02 2014 11:19 AM
Allison from Queens

A few years ago I realized that I wasn't good at predicting how sleepy I really was and I would simply fall asleep wherever I was at home, without brushing teeth or putting dishes away. So I put an alarm on my iPhone to go off a few hours before I plan to go to bed to remind me to get ready for bed. I also started using a sound/wind machine, for when I lived in a noisy apartment - now I'm used to it and can't sleep without it. In my new apt, my neighbors smoke cigarettes and the tobacco smoke wakes me up at 2am-4am. I bought an air filter, but seems like it doesn't really work.

I'm still trying to figure out how to rid my mind of worries and thoughts about money that keep me up. Also, my cats wake me at night but for some reason I don't really mind so much. :)

Apr. 02 2014 11:15 AM
Joanie D from Irvington NY

I understood that taking melatonin works but it depresses the body's ability to make it's own. I also heard that Tart Cherry supplements can stimulate the body to make its own natural melatonin. Confirm?

Apr. 02 2014 11:14 AM
Eric from manhattan

What is that soothing music with the slide guitar that is playing between segments?

Apr. 02 2014 11:12 AM
Jean Mensing from NYC

I love having dreams. Look forward to any type of dreaming at night, even bad dreams. If one has to sleep one should have an interesting time. I'm fascinated on how my brain creates different structures, towns and cities as well as little stories that sometime make sense when I wake up.

Apr. 02 2014 11:12 AM

What about post menopausal sleep issues? I often wake up fully after 4 hours. Also i frequently feel overcome by drowsiness, fall asleep and then abruptly awaken and can't fall back asleep, sometimes many times over the night.

Apr. 02 2014 11:06 AM
Amie Macdonald from Brooklyn

Great topic - my latest and most successful intervention to produce more restful, more consolidated sleep: i bought a clock radio and banished my iphone from our bedroom. I had been using my phone as an alarm clock and that close proximity to my sleeping space was really destructive - even if it didnt actually wake me up at night (at some point I did discover the DO NOT DISTURB feature), any time I woke up the phone was right there and would unconsciously make me start thinking about work, kids' schedules, the NYTs, etc.

Apr. 02 2014 11:06 AM

Question: How about if you get TOO much sleep? Like, 9 - 10 hours on average (with 3 mg. of melatonin)

Apr. 02 2014 11:03 AM
JP from Westchester

One generic Benadryl at bedtime. Cheapest sleep aid ever, especially for allergy sufferers.

Apr. 02 2014 11:02 AM
Carol from Upper East Side

How about people who have light sleep ?
As long as I can remember I always experience light sleep, waking up a bit any time I move. Very rarely I feel well rested In the morning. Recently I started using hear plugs and covering my eyes and my sleep is way better but I wonder how my long years of light sleep affected my health.

Apr. 02 2014 11:02 AM
Victoria Gillen from Statenh Island

I live in an area where heavy industry exists next to residential.These operations make 90+ decibel -LOUD- noises at all hours of the day - and night. There is no enforcement of noise code. 311 seems to be concerned about neighbors having parties, barking dogs, and loud bars - but this is a real problem.

Apr. 02 2014 10:49 AM
R Jessa from park slope

I started with what my psychopharmacologist called "rumination" before trying to sleep--I was in an ongoing conflict that I just could not turn off before going to sleep. I also have to deal with depression. So I've been taking an antianxiety and a sleep med, and that helps.

Separately, and compounding the issue, is that the work I do has exacerbated my sleep challenge. I work freelance for a media industry that has struggled not just since 2008 but with the changes in technology. So the rates have not gone up and the schedules have gone out the window--I'm promised work for a day, it doesn't show up, it shows up when I've got other projects and I can't afford not to take it. I'm sure that it's not the quality I would like (and luckily the industry has some built-in redundancies to hopefully catch errors I make). This has accelerated dramatically in the last few years; there was always time when we had to deal with crushes, but it's gotten into absurd levels.

Also, I seem to have an unnatural ability to be awake for long periods of time--perhaps 36 hours straight and still be relatively, comfortably functional. I do become exhausted but try to keep myself awake until a more "proper" time.

I also sometimes get into an afternoon nap pattern, either quickies or deep, hour and a half long rests.

Baseline problem: My work demands don't allow me to get into a regular schedule, and my occasional other issues compound the problem.

Apr. 02 2014 10:48 AM
Elaine from Baltimore

Is melatonin safe to use? On a regular basis or on an as needed basis? What about giving this to children?

Apr. 02 2014 10:47 AM
AA from brooklyn

Someone told me that if you go to sleep at 10pm you will need less sleep than if you go to bed at 1am. I don't understand why this would be true - an hour of sleep is an hour of sleep, no?

But I tested the theory and found that in fact I do need less sleep when I go to bed before midnight. Does your guest have any insight into this?


Apr. 02 2014 10:44 AM
MC from LIC

Is there any evidence showing that people have an intuitive "internal clock"? i often find myself waking up exactly before my alarm goes off. And sometimes I wake up at a designated time even if the alarm wasn't set.

Apr. 02 2014 10:42 AM
Linda P. from NYC

My granddaughter, now 9 years old, never gets enough sleep. When I picked her up from school at age 4 and 5, she was sheet-white and leaning against the cubbies with obvious fatigue. Her parents don't want to hear any more from me on the subject, so I' won't be effective if I continue to offer advice. I babysat for her recently and she couldn't go to sleep at 10 pm because she was "worrying" about upcoming tests at school. I'd like to know how to get the family to break this habit now, and whether if it's not changed, is there evidence that she's heading for a chronic lifelong problem.

This little girl's father has always taken some pride in being someone who needs less sleep than other humans, and I worry that that might be part of this picture.

Please advise. Thank you.

Linda P.

Apr. 02 2014 10:41 AM
Elaine from Baltimore

Oh dear... I've been burning the candle at both ends for decades. Now I won't be able to sleep because I'll be worried about how my health has been affected by the lack of it!!

Apr. 02 2014 10:40 AM
James from Nyack

Can you comment on sleep strategies for airline pilots please?
I fly to Europe and am on the ground for 36 hours before returning to NY.

Not looking for jet lag strategies per se, but how can you go to sleep at 11pm in Paris when it's 5pm in NYC and your body has not adjusted.

This is a ongoing problem for me!

Thank you

Apr. 02 2014 10:38 AM
Fred from Larchmont

Can your guest point us to where we can learn self-hypnotism?

Apr. 02 2014 10:36 AM
Kate from Riverdale.

I have a really great trick for getting back to sleep that I've never heard, and it works for me every time--I used to have trouble with it too, and I love this method, because it's fun. My husband likes it too.
After you have spent a little time awake with your usual worries, lists and so on, and you are truly ready to go back to sleep...and you decide that it's time:
Close your eyes and focus them, literally, on the back of your eyelids. Don't allow your imagination to work, but actually look at the eyelids, which seems a little impossible, but it works. You will see gray blobs, maybe, or dull shapes. Look at what you literally, actually see, and relax as you look. Be patient, and know this will work. Eventually you will see something--and you will be delighted. It will be amorphous. Maybe the corner of a chair. Or a nose. It is whatever you see--and it will only be there for a moment. It will disappear and you will see something else. Just enjoy the crazy little things you are seeing. Keep looking (NOT imaging). Eventually, as you are delighting in your wacky flash visions, all non-sequiturs, more will appear, and before you know it, you will be dreaming.
I discovered this when I realized that this was what was happening right before I started dreaming, and that I could make it happen in a mindful way.
Hope it helps you all! (I'd call Brian but too shy.)

Apr. 02 2014 10:27 AM
Maria McGrath from Brooklyn

When my brother was in his early teens he had a packed schedule--long commute to school, lots of work, swim team practice every day--and when he finally got to bed he would lie awake worrying about how he really needed sleep but couldn't fall asleep.
Years later, he told my mom that my dad had helped him by telling him, "Don't worry about falling asleep, just lying still and resting your body is good enough." When my mom scoffed at this and said my dad had given useless advice, my brother said, "True or not, because he told me resting was good enough, I was able to stop worrying and sleep."
Now I have a nine-year-old who lies in bed with his eyes wide open, and I have told him the same thing--just lie still and rest your body; it's good enough.

Apr. 02 2014 10:27 AM
rachel from NYC

I have a problem with staying asleep. It starts with jerking myself awake and then waking up at least twice a night.

I now take genericgenerics Ambien and its transformed my life. I now sleep more than 7 hours a night and feel better than ever. But I do miss remembering my dreams.

Apr. 02 2014 10:24 AM
Michael from West orange

Earplugs!!! They shut out outside world and always work.

Apr. 02 2014 10:22 AM

A friend told me that if you wake up in the night and can't fall back to sleep, you are probably dehydrated. Drink some water and it will help.

Apr. 02 2014 10:20 AM
JR from NYC

I used to have trouble sleeping, not sleep enough, etc. Terrible the next day. It really is the worst not getting enough sleep.
I started taking tryptophan at night - along with a bit of kefir and honey - and melatonin and GABA (which helps you relax). I now sleep through the night (mostly) without waking up.
I think it's also important to look at it holistically, exercise, diet, supplements etc, the whole thing counts.
My dr once prescribed my ambien which made me feel worse and also made me angry.

Apr. 02 2014 10:19 AM
Daria from Dallas!

I've read that being able to fall asleep immediately - within 5 minutes - may indicate an accumulated sleep deficit. Is this true?

My 60-year old neighbor practices good sleep hygiene (no stimulants like TV, PC, caffeine within hours of sleep; dark room; cooler temp; comfortable bed; emptied/emptying stomach and mind, etc) and still has 3-4 wakeups during an 8-hour period. Although she is able to fall back asleep after waking, she never feels fully rested. Any recommendations?

Apr. 02 2014 10:11 AM

Ha! My reserve of Leonard Lopate's interviews with European dancers, and directors has proved invaluable in the wee hours…

Apr. 02 2014 09:58 AM

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