Smart Moves by Ellen James Martin

Don't Lose Sleep Over Buying or Selling

A woman in her late 20s -- a graphic artist married to a marketing manager -- struggled through sleepless nights for nearly a week after the couple bought a townhouse in a hip city neighborhood.

Had the couple bought the wrong home? Would the place lose value? Would they fail to meet their mortgage payments and face foreclosure? All these questions plagued her mind in the middle of the night.

It was misery until she talked through the issues with a financial planner and realized that buying the townhouse was indeed a sound decision.

As this true story illustrates, suffering from sleeplessness due to home-buying fears can afflict anyone, says Dorcas Helfant, the co-owner of several realty company offices. With so much at stake, she says it’s not surprising that many buyers second-guess themselves about real estate.

Sid Davis, a longtime real estate broker and author of “A Survival Guide to Selling a Home,” says it’s not uncommon for sellers to suffer from insomnia while their property is on the market.

“Even in a hot neighborhood, where houses are practically flying off the market, some sellers get totally stressed out,” Davis says.

Financial fears, along with health concerns, are leading factors that are highly correlated to insomnia, says Dr. Lawrence Epstein, a physician specializing in sleep at the Harvard Medical School and co-author of “The Harvard Medical School Guide to a Good Night’s Sleep.”

Real estate issues are only one of many explanations for insomnia. Epstein estimates that about 10 percent of American adults experience a chronic sleep problem.

Are you having difficulty sleeping due to a significant real estate issue or for any other reason? If so, these few pointers could help:

-- Realize that medication is a short-term fix at best.

Colleen Carney, co-author of “Quiet Your Mind & Get to Sleep,” has no objection to the short-term use of sleep aids. For example, they could be appropriate for people in the midst of a stressful home-buying transition.

“Medications are a quick and inexpensive fix for people with temporary insomnia due to a stressful situation,” says Carney, a psychologist specializing in sleep.

But Carney cautions that the use of sleep medications for more than two or three months can be counterproductive and could actually hinder the efforts of insomniacs to obtain sounder sleep.

-- Try to take the time to wind down before bedtime.

As Carney says, human beings aren’t programmed to downshift suddenly from an excited or stressful state of mind to the kind of relaxation that’s conducive to sound sleep. For that reason, she recommends that those suffering from insomnia give themselves a “buffer period” before going to bed.

“You need at least an hour to wind down,” says Carney, who’s been involved in sleep research for well over a decade.

During your buffer period, try to avoid work-related activities or discussions which could provoke worry or anxiety. For example, don’t get into a heated conversation with your spouse about which home to buy or how to deal with an unsold property. Instead, limit yourself to quiet activities, such as reading or watching a calming movie.

“Don’t do anything before bed that could over-stimulate you and make it harder for you to produce sound sleep,” Carney says.

-- Track your sleep habits closely.

Sleep experts say the most effective ways to deal with insomnia involve behavioral changes that can’t be accomplished overnight. They require sustained effort over a period of time.

“It’s the bad habits that affect our sleep more than anything else,” Carney says.

Because it can take weeks to reverse sleep habits, insomnia experts recommend use of a sleep log that can be found in many books on the topic of insomnia.

“The idea is to track your sleep habits until you can change them in constructive ways,” Carney says.

One practical guide you can consult is “The Insomnia Workbook” by Stephanie Silberman.

-- Keep electronic devices out of your bedroom if possible.

It’s no secret that electronic devices such as cell phones, tablets and laptops are a primary source of information for those heading into the home purchase or sale. But using them at night for this or any other purpose can be counterproductive to restful sleep, especially for people prone to insomnia, according to Carney.

“Ideally, you’ll sleep in a bedroom without a computer, or at least you’ll shut it down before going to bed,” she says.

Carney and other insomnia specialists say an increasing number of people are hindering their prospects for good sleep by bringing electronic devices -- including laptops and cell phones -- into bed with them.

“You don’t want anything electronic in your bed. It’s also a good idea to avoid watching TV in your bedroom,” she says.

(To contact Ellen James Martin, email her at ellenjamesmartin@gmail.com.)