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By Caroline Pak, PharmD, Medical Editor-in-Chief - This article originally published on .
Lack of sleep is a common problem in the U.S. At least 40 million Americans suffer from chronic, long-term sleep disorders each year. Insomnia is a sleep disorder characterized by the inability to fall or stay asleep as well as having poor quality sleep—it affects more women than men, older adults, and people with chronic medical illnesses.
Not getting adequate sleep can affect mood, causing you to be irritable, impatient and anxious. It can cause daytime sleepiness, low concentration and impaired memory. Productivity is reduced. Insomnia can have many causes, ranging from things like stress, anxiety, depression, thyroid problems, to the overuse of stimulants such as nicotine and caffeinated drinks (coffee, soda), among many other possible reasons.
If you think you have a sleep disorder, first ask yourself: how healthy are your sleep habits? Do you sleep with the TV on? Do you eat right before you go to bed? If you wake up feeling tired and groggy because your lifestyle habits impair your sleep, then you may need to improve your sleep ‘hygiene’—a term to describe your sleeping habits.
Here are a few simple tips on how you can improve your sleep.
- Maintain a regular sleep schedule. Attempt to wake up in the morning and go to bed at the same time every day, even on weekends.
- Avoid alcohol, caffeine, and nicotine. Caffeine, nicotine and other stimulants too close to bedtime can prevent you from falling or staying asleep.
- Don’t eat too late. Also, avoid large meals too close to going to bed. Your last meal should be eaten at least 3 to 4 hours prior to bedtime.
- Be comfortable. Wear comfortable clothes that are loose and feel soft to touch. Have comfortable bedding as well. Maintain a comfortable temperature in your room. Make sure your pillows adequately support your head.
- Avoid naps. Napping too much during the day or too close to your bedtime can interfere with your nighttime sleep. If needed, limit naps to 30 minutes.
- Avoid engaging in stressful activities before going to sleep. Instead, create a wind-down routine. Calming exercises such as meditation can relax the mind.
- Ensure your room is dark and free from distracting noises. Turn off the TV or computer screen to block out unnecessary light.
- Exercise regularly.
- Check your medications. See if any of the medications that you take may be affecting your sleep. Some over-the-counter and prescription medications may contain stimulants or have side effects such as nervousness or jitteriness or increased urination. If you need to take medications that can interfere with sleep, speak with your healthcare professional about taking it in the morning or earlier in the day.
- See a doctor if you have trouble falling asleep most nights and feel tired after sleeping what you think is an adequate amount of time. Sleep disorders like sleep apnea or narcolepsy may need more specialized medical attention.
Note that how much sleep a person needs will vary. There are some who need 8 hours while others may be fine with 6 hours. The key is to find the right amount for you. If you wake up feeling refreshed after 6 hours of sleep, then that is what your body might need every night. Keeping a sleep diary may help you determine what is affecting your sleep.