Alarm clock

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They Stick to a Routine
The expert: Sam J. Sugar, MD, FACP, director of sleep services at the Pritikin Longevity Center & Spa in Doral, Florida

The sleep secret: "I used to go to sleep whenever I started feeling drowsy, which could be as late as 2 a.m. I would usually disrupt my wife, who was already in bed. About two years ago, she suggested trying the thing that experts—including myself—had been recommending to patients for years: that we both go to bed at the same time every night (we didn't have to worry about setting an alarm, because our dog wakes us up every day at 6:29). The idea is that you're creating a habit that the body then wants to stick to, so it tells you that it's tired at the chosen time. Many studies have shown that this kind of repetition is self-reinforcing, including one from last year of over 650 retirees that found that going to bed and waking at the same time helped people fall asleep faster and wake up feeling more refreshed. That's what happened to me, too. I'm lucky that I have my wife to keep us on schedule, but other people might find it helpful to set a go-to-sleep-now alarm, or create a bedtime routine (turn the computer off at 9:50, or wash your face at 10:45)."

Sleep disappointment: "I have trouble sleeping on planes. On one transatlantic flight, my colleagues insisted that I take a sleeping pill 'to take the edge off.' For 18 hours, I sat wide awake, watching everyone snooze. It was a reminder that we all react differently—and unpredictably—to medication."

Next: Sleep myths you can ignore