HOTLINE FOR POOR SLEEPERS

Sleep consumes a third of our lives and affects all of our body functions. It has become a hot topic for scientific study in the past decade. Yet most of us take sleep for granted - unless, of course, it has eluded us the night before. And string a bunch of sleepless nights together, and you can soon become a basket case.The good news for all those "walking weary" who couldn't sleep last night is that May is Better Sleep Month, and there's an organization devoted to helping you. The Better Sleep Council, now in its 11th year, has set up a 24-hour toll-free number to call during May. Dial 1-800-223-NITE, and hear the pajama-clad superhero

Mattress Man give 90 seconds worth ofsleep tips. Mattress Man specializes in mind games that will help you relax into sleep.

Here's some other snooze news from the Better Sleep Council to help you through the month.

BED CHECK

If your mattress has been with you for more than eight to 10 years, it may be wearing out its welcome. The Better Sleep Council suggests you do an annual bed check. Ask these questions:

1. Is the cover soiled, stained or torn?

2. Does the mattress surface look uneven?

3. Are there sagging spots where you usually lie or around the edges?

4. Does the foundation (boxsprings) have an uneven or sagging surface?

5. Would you be embarrassed to show your bed - without covers - to your neighbors?

6. Is the mattress comfortable in some places and in some positions, but not in others?

7. When you turn over, do you hear creaks, crunches or other suspicious noises?

8. When you roll around, does the bed wobble or sway?

9. Are you and your partner rolling together without meaning to?

10. Are you fighting each other - or the covers - for enough space to get comfortable?

Give yourself one point for every "yes" answer. If you scored 8-10 points, your old mattress and foundation are definitely ready for retirement.

BUYING BEDS AND SUCH

You spend more time on your bed than on any other piece of furniture, so make sure it is right for you. Look for comfort, adequate support, durability and a good warranty. Don't rely just on product labels, however. One manufacturer's "firm" may feel harder than another's "extra firm." The only way to find out if the support is right is to lie down and try it.

There are three basic types of mattresses:

Innerspring: The most widely purchased type of bedding, it uses the support of tempered steel coils in a variety of configurations, coil counts and wire thick-nesses.

Quality tip: Make sure there are more than 300 coils in the full-size model or more than 375 coils in the queen.

Foam: Foam mattresses also offer a wide choice of "feel." They can be made of a solid core or of several different layers of different types of foam.

Quality tip: Be sure that the foam has a minimum density of 2 lbs. per cubic foot. In general, the higher that number, the better the foam.

Flotation: Waterbeds are now available in two basic types - the "hardside" type is a vinyl mattress, liner and heater combined in a rigid frame; the newer "soft-side" looks much like a familiar mattress/-boxspring combination. Both types offer a range of feel - from full motion to waveless.

Quality tip: The mattress vinyl should be a minimum of 20 ml. in thickness, and if there are seams, they should be lap seams. Better yet, ask to see verification that the products meet the California Standards - even if you don't live in California.

Foundation: A good foundation (boxspring) is as important as a good mattress. It acts much like a large shock absorber, taking a lot of the nightly wear and tear. And it contributes to comfort and support. Never put a new mattress on an old foundation. When you select the mattress, purchase its companion foundation - the two are designed to work best together.

PILLOW TALK

Your bed should provide proper support for your body; your pillow should give you the right cushioning to position your head and neck. A quality pillow will hold your head in the same relation to your shoulders and spine as if you were standing with correct upright posture.

When shopping for a pillow, squeeze and scrunch it. Slowly press your hand down on the center of the pillow where your head would rest to judge firmness. The pillow should be resilient, free of lumps and odor-resistant. Keep in mind the following:

Firmness: If you sleep on your side, try a firm pillow to give your head and neck extra support. If you sleep on your back, try a medium-firm pillow to cradle your head with more "give." And if you sleep on your stomach, choose a soft pillow to lessen the strain on your neck.

Filling: Pillows come filled with synthetic fiber, down and feathers or foam. Polyester fiber pillows are the most popular type and generally fall into the middle price range. They are available from soft to very firm and are non-allergenic. Better-quality polyester pillows can be washed in a washing machine.

Down pillows are not as easy to care for but are soft and very durable. They are generally the most expensive and can cause an allergic reaction, but they offer a luxurious feel for your head.

Size: Pillow sizes correspond to mattress sizes. If you upgrade the size of your bed, remember to match your pillows to it.

SLEEPING STRATEGIES

If you spend an average of more than 45 minutes waiting for sleep to come, it's time to take a look at your lifestyle. Your daytime habits, such as erratic hours, late meals or too much caffeine could be the source of your sleeplessness. But chances are your mind, not your body, is keeping you awake. Here are some tips for turning off your too-busy brain and relaxing your too-tense body:

Snack on a snooze food: Some foods tend to act as natural sedatives. An MIT study found the foods that made volunteers the drowsiest at bedtime were English muffins and bananas. Milk also contains low amounts of L-tryptophan, the amino acid that acts as "nature's sleeping pill." Warm herbal teas can also make you drowsy. Stay away from alcohol.

Get wet and warm: A bath that's neither too hot or too cold can induce sleepiness by sending blood away from the brain to the skin surface.

Relax your muscles: One of the best techniques is progressive muscle relaxation, which involves alternate tensing and relaxing. Focus your attention on a specific group of muscles, such as those in your arm. Tense tightly for five to seven seconds, then release for 15 to 20 seconds.

Get up: If you're not asleep within 10 minutes of shutting off the light, leave your bed, go into another room and read or listen to music. When you start feeling drowsy, go back to bed.

Try to stay awake: This approach, called paradoxical intention, may sound contradictory. Rather than worrying about falling asleep fast, tell yourself you're going to stay awake as long as you can. With the pressure off, you can stop worrying - and start sleeping.

Play mind games: If you mind is still racing, try putting it to another task - playing games:

-Think black: a black cat on a black velvet pillow on a black corduroy sofa on a black wool rug in a black room.

-Make long strings of words by changing just one letter at a time: mind becomes mild, then mold, then mole, then mile, then mill, then hill, then pill, then pile, then pale, and so on.

-Recite the alphabet to yourself backwards. Then spell the names of people you know backwards.

TIMELY STATS

- The average person logs more than 220,000 hours in bed during his/her life.

- Average sleep time each night is 7 1/2 hours.

- Ideal sleep temperature is mid-60s.

- Sounds over 70 decibels can interfere with quality sleep.

- In the past 10 years, the likelihood of a couple choosing queen- or king-size bedding has increased 23 percent.

- 75 percent of the bedding sold in the U.S. is innerspring, 15 percent is flotation (waterbeds), 10 percent is foam.

- On any given night, one of every three adults will have trouble sleeping.

- More than 60 percent of men over 50 suffer from sleep apnea.

- One out of every eight people snores.

- 2.5 percent of all men and women sleepwalk regularly.

- There are more than 120 sleep disorder centers in the U.S. and Canada; they help an estimated 75-80 percent of their patients sleep better.

- Most people keep their mattresses and foundations nearly 12 years. Replacement every 8-10 years is recommended.

- Roughly 20 million prescriptions were written last year for sleeping pills.

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(Additional information)

10 COMMANDMENTS FOR GOOD SLEEP

1. Keep regular hours.

2. Remember that quality of sleep matters more than quantity.

3. Exercise every day - but not too close to bedtime.

4. Don't smoke.

5. Avoid coffee and alcohol late in the day.

6. Don't nap.

7. Unwind in the evening.

8. Invest in a quality mattress and foundation.

9. Don't go to bed starved or stuffed.

10. Develop a bedtime ritual.