If you're like many Americans, you're probably not getting enough sleep. Constantly on the go, you may think you never have enough time to finish everything on your to-do list. But that doesn't mean you should shortchange your sleep -- or your health, for that matter.
"People don't respect their sleep enough," says Robert C. Basner, MD, director of Columbia University's Cardiopulmonary Sleep and Ventilatory Disorders Center and professor of clinical medicine at Columbia University Medical Center. "They tend to think of it as a nuisance and don't look forward to it as something that is really restorative and will help them the next day and the day after that."
So start by making sleep a priority in your life. Then, follow these simple tips to help you get better ZZZs and wake up feeling refreshed every morning.
Sleep Fix #1
Give your bedroom a makeover.
Make your sleeping area conducive to rest by keeping it dark and quiet. If you live in a city, consider using a white-noise machine to block out loud noises. Keep in mind that your body temperature drops at night, so you want to keep your room environment at a cool, comfortable level.
Sleep Fix #2
Get enough sleep.
Most people need seven or eight hours to optimally function, says Nancy Collop, MD, director of the Emory Sleep Center in Atlanta and president of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine. "You don't want to be tired or sleepy during the day," she says. If you need an alarm clock to wake up, find yourself chugging caffeine to stay awake, or you nod off during meetings, you may not be getting enough shut-eye.
Sleep Fix #3
Establish a regular routine.
Try to go to bed and wake up at the same time every day. People who frequently switch their sleep times experience something akin to jet lag. Basner points to "Sunday night insomnia," where weekend warriors stay up late on Friday and Saturday and then have trouble falling asleep on Sunday. "Just that 24-48 hours can shift your circadian rhythm and cause poor sleep," he explains.
Sleep Fix #4
Put away your gadgets.
It's tempting to watch TV or surf the web from bed, but those activities usually make it harder to wind down. The latest research suggests that artificial light coming from laptop screens, TVs, etc. suppresses the sleep-inducing hormone melatonin. So give yourself a technology curfew and turn off those screens at least an hour before bedtime.
Sleep Fix #5
Get up instead of tossing and turning.
If you have trouble falling asleep or wake up in the middle of the night, don't lie in bed just staring into space. Get out of bed, do something that is relaxing, and come back to bed when you feel drowsy. "Keep the bedroom associated with sleeping rather than being awake," says Collop. If you're a worrywart, try to make a list of things you need to do the next day an hour before bed. That way you can get your worrying done before you get into bed, she says.
Sleep Fix #6
Avoid alcohol before bed.
Contrary to popular opinion, drinking alcohol before bedtime is not a good idea since it disrupts sleep and causes nighttime awakenings. "Chronic use of alcohol also takes away slow-wave sleep," says Basner. "It wears off quickly, and then you're left with nightmares and sleep fragmentation." Caffeine before bedtime is also a no-no.
Sleep Fix #7
Know how much sleep your kids need.
According to a National Sleep Foundation (NSF) survey, only 20% of adolescents get the recommended nine hours of sleep per night on school nights. The NSF recommends that children ages 3 to 5 need 11 to 13 hours; ages 5 to 10 need 10 to 11 hours; ages 10 to 17 need 8.5. to 9.5 hours; ages 18 and above need 7 to 9 hours.
Sleep Fix #8
Make bedtime a priority for the whole family.
School-age kids benefit from a regular bedtime routine. Use rituals that help children wind down like a bath, brushing teeth, and story time. Be aware that your kids may try to push the bedtime limits. "Kids are pretty savvy, they'll try to manipulate parents if they can to keep coming back in the room and parents need to try to avoid giving into to that," says Collop.
Sleep Fix #9
Get help for daytime sleepiness.
Daytime drowsiness can be dangerous, because you may be at risk for falling asleep while driving. Unexplained sleepiness is a surefire signal that you should talk to your doctor. There are treatments available for cases of sleep apnea or narcolepsy. Insomnia is a common complaint, but if it persists for more than a few weeks, you should see your doctor to get to the root of the problem.