1. Freeze your head

    If you're having trouble sleeping, maybe you just need to chill out.


    You probably know all about the wonders of the magical "cool spot" on your pillow (and if you don't, try looking for it tonight). But now, researchers are taking the concept a step further. They've created a water-powered nightcap that can keep your head cool all night long.

    It might just be able to help insomniacs sleep better than ever.

    Researchers from the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine recruited a dozen patients who suffer from primary insomnia, a sleep disorder not linked to drugs, substance abuse, other health problems, or anything else.

    The researchers also recruited a dozen normal sleepers to act as controls, and then let them all snooze away in a sleep lab for eight nights under different conditions: two nights without the cooling cap, two nights with the cooling cap at room temperature, two nights with a slight chill in the cap (72 degrees), and two nights with a nice cold cap (57 degrees).

    When the cap was set at that coolest temperature, the insomniacs were practically cured: It took them just 13 minutes to fall asleep on average.

    That's slightly faster than the 16 minutes needed by the normal sleepers.

    Better yet, the insomniacs spent 89 percent of their time in bed asleep, about the same as the healthy sleepers, and more time in slow-wave sleep -- or the kind of sleep we need to feel rested.

    Obviously, this was a small study and more research is needed before anyone can say for sure whether cooling caps are worth the time and trouble.

    But none of that should stop you from experimenting on your own at home -- so if you're having sleep problems, consider cooling your pillow.

    There are pillows for sale that you can fill with a layer of cold water to keep them cool through the night, but you can make your own economy version with a towel and a gel-based ice pack.

    Wrap the frozen pack into the towel, and slip it into your pillow.

    Whatever you do, avoid a frozen wet towel.

    It might help you get to sleep at first... but you'll wake up in the middle of the night with your head in a puddle.

  2. Sleepless men die sooner

    Want to live longer? Sleep better!

    A new study finds that men who battle insomnia have quadruple the risk of an early death--and if you're suffering from disease along with your sleepless nights, your death risk can be even higher than that.

    Researchers recruited 1,741 people who answered questions about their sleep habits and spent a night tossing and turning in a sleep lab. Men in the study had an average age of 50 and were tracked for 14 years, while women had an average age of 47 and were tracked for 10 years.

    Roughly one-fifth of the men died during the study, with the self-described insomniacs who slept for less than six hours a night having four times the death rate of the good sleepers.

    What's more, the self-described insomniacs who had poor sleep and suffered from diabetes or high blood pressure had seven times the death risk, according to the study in the journal Sleep.

    Interestingly, men who got less than six hours of sleep a night but did not consider themselves to be insomniacs did not suffer from the increased death risk... and self- described insomniacs who actually slept well also did not have a higher risk of dying.

    Women didn't seem to have the same death risk... but researchers say that doesn't mean they should be happy about their sleepless nights. Because women live longer, and those in the study were younger and followed for a shorter period, researchers say more study is needed before they can draw any conclusions.

    I wouldn't be surprised if they've already applied for the grant.

    But whether you're male or female, young or old, one thing is clear: Sleep problems can have some pretty significant health repercussions.

    Other studies have found that poor sleep can increase your risk of everything from obesity to dementia to depression... and, of course, it can make you grouchy all day.

    But if you're looking to improve your snooze, don't turn to over-the-counter sleep drugs or risky prescription pills.

    In many cases, simple lifestyle changes--like reducing your stress or avoiding late-day caffeine--can help you sleep better. And when those changes fail, there are proven natural remedies you can turn to that are far safer and more effective than any drugs your doctor will offer.

    Many people have had tremendous success with valerian root or valerian tea about half an hour before bed. Others find that a supplement with a 2:1 ratio of calcium to magnesium, taken in the evening, can help make sleep come more easily. Music, scents, total darkness and a comfortable pillow can also make all the difference in the world.

    And that's not the only sleep study making headlines--keep reading to find out what bad bed habits can do to teens.

  3. Bad sleep now, bad health later

    Good sleep is important at any age... but for kids and young adults, insomnia can lead to a lifetime of poor health, bad habits and even mental illness. Two new studies paint a portrait of what can happen when kids and young adults spend too much time awake--and it's not the kind of picture you want in the family scrapbook...
  4. What's keeping you up at night?

    Two new studies show the problems of chronic sleeplessness can run far deeper, as insomniacs are more likely to suffer from high blood pressure and have increased thoughts of suicide.

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