After Years of Exhaustion, Aircraft Mechanic Now Wakes Up Rested


Photo: Norbert von der Groeben

Robert Upchurch jogs at Coyote Point

The triathlete, who suffers from obstructive sleep apnea, said he benefitted from a class offered by the Stanford Sleep Medicine Center.


The following are some tips from Clete Kushida, MD, PhD, medical director of the Stanford Sleep Medicine Center, on getting a better night's sleep:


  • Try to establish a regular sleep-wake schedule by going to bed and waking up about the same time each day.
  • Use a bright light in the morning to synchronize your body's sleep-wake cycle to your desired awakening time. Going outside or staying in an area that receives a lot of sunlight for 30 minutes within 5 minutes of waking up will enable this. If you typically wake up before dawn, a UV-filtered lightbox is an acceptable substitute for sunlight. Conversely, avoid any bright light a few hours before bedtime; it might delay the onset of your sleep.
  • Establish a pattern of relaxation habits before bedtime, such as meditation, yoga or a warm bath.
  • Start a "worry list." Set aside some time a few hours before going to bed to write down all the things that are bothering you, and try to mentally deal with those things at that time.

Try to Avoid

  • Exercising or consuming heavy meals and a lot of fluids a few hours before bedtime.
  • Using stimulants such as caffeine or nicotine, or drinking alcohol, before bedtime.
  • Watching television or reading in bed (unless these activities definitely make your drowsy).
  • Taking daytime naps, which are generally not a good idea because they can make it harder for you to sleep that night or the next night.

Other Tips

  • Avoid over-the-counter sleep medications. They typically have a long half-life and so can make you feel drowsy after you've woken up. On the other hand, prescription sleep medications typically have shorter half-lives and are better at targeting specific symptoms.
  • Avoid staying in bed longer than 20 minutes if you can't sleep or can't fall back asleep after waking up in the middle of the night. Get up and go to another room and do something that makes you drowsy (reading, knitting, etc.) in order to re-associate the bedroom environment with sleep and not with tossing and turning.
  • If you have persistent difficulty falling or staying asleep, have restless or frequently disturbed sleep, do not feel refreshed in the morning, have difficulty staying awake during the day or have problems with attention, memory or mood that appear to be related to daytime fatigue or sleepiness—or any combination of these—you should definitely discuss these issues with your physician or a sleep specialist.
Photo: Norbert von der Groeben

Clete Kushida, MD, PhD, explained how the portable sleep study, worn here for demonstration by Sleep Medicine Center medical assistant Jennifer Harpe, works. "Once all this stuff is on, you don't really feel it," Harpe said.

Photo: Norbert von der Groeben

Sleep Medicine Center patient Robert Upchurch holds his continuous positive airway presure machine, which he uses while sleeping to prevent obstructive sleep apnea.