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Health & Balance

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Sleepless in America


Getting the ZZZs You Need

Experts recommend eight hours of sleep a night, but that's an average. Teens, for example, need nine to 10 hours. Aging also causes some shifts in sleep patterns. The important thing is to get the amount you need -- every night. Sleep loss is cumulative, and it can't be "made up."

So how do you go about increasing your shuteye? Start by following the tips below. If these don't work, you may have a sleep disorder and should consult your doctor.

  • Eliminate environmental noise, like that of a TV set. Invest in a "white noise" machine, if necessary, to drown out traffic sounds or loud neighbors.
  • Exercise regularly, but at least three to four hours before you go to bed. Vigorous exercise causes your internal body temperature to rise and can delay sleep if done in the hours just before bedtime.
  • "Power naps" can stave off drowsiness, if necessary (when you're on the road, for example). But naps can also disrupt nighttime sleep. If you must nap, do so for no longer than 30 minutes in the late afternoon.
  • Use your bed only for sleep (and sex), not for working, reading or TV viewing. Making your bed a sleep-only zone conditions your body to know that bed equals sleep.
  • Stop drinking caffeine at least six hours before bedtime. Nicotine is also a stimulant and should be avoided close to bedtime. And alcohol may help you get to sleep, but it causes fragmented sleep, ultimately making you drowsier the next day.
  • Make sure your bedroom is comfortable -- quiet, dark, and not too warm.
  • Establish a regular waking time, even on the weekends.
  • Develop routines to cue your body that it's sleep time -- a warm bath, a cup of decaffeinated tea or a glass of warm milk, listening to music or reading.
  • Don't try too hard. If you don't fall asleep within 20 minutes, get up and do something relaxing until you feel sleepy.

Five Signs You Need More Sleep:

1. Taking longer than 30 minutes to fall asleep.

2. Awakening frequently during the night and not being able to get back to sleep.

3. Waking up feeling groggy.

4. Having trouble staying awake during nonstimulating events.

5. Having difficulty remembering things.

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