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You can improve your life by finding out what’s behind your sleeplessness. In addition to making you feel mentally and physically tired, not getting enough sleep can harm your health in many ways. It can be related to heart disease, high blood pressure and cancer. It can make people more likely to gain weight or have memory problems.
About 3 in 5 Americans say something is keeping them awake at night. If you’re one of them, take a look at some quick changes you can make to your everyday habits.
Nightcaps: Maybe you’re drinking alcohol a few hours before you go to bed. That might help you fall asleep, but it won’t keep you asleep. And it can lead to poor quality sleep that doesn’t give your body the benefits it should. It can also cause more sleep disturbing middle-of-the-night trips to the bathroom. The fix: Watch the amount you drink and make last call earlier in the evening.
Medicine timing: You may be taking your medicine at the “wrong” time for restful sleep. Some medicines, such as those for high blood pressure, depression or asthma, can keep you awake.The fix: Check with your doctor and track your response to find the best time for you.
Late snacks and caffeine: If you’re eating heavy or spicy foods that cause heartburn, it can keep you up. Too much caffeine can keep you awake, too, even if it’s been hours since you had your last soda, coffee, tea or chocolate. The fix: Change what you eat and when. And have caffeine in moderation.
Exercise: Exercising at the wrong time can cause sleep problems. And if you aren’t getting enough activity, you may feel overly tired but still not be able to sleep.The fix: Get your body moving, just not near bedtime.
Your environment: Your bed is lumpy. Your clock glows too brightly. You can hear cars on the street. You’re too hot. These types of things can make it hard to sleep. The fix: Invest in a new bed. Block the light from your alarm clock or other tech gadgets. Get a white noise machine or try a fan to block out noise. Try keeping your bedroom cooler, too.
Too much going on before bed: Are you binge watching TV or reading when you should be sleeping? Are you a little too devoted to social media or texting at night?The fix: Practice moderation. Put down the remote and ditch the mobile devices at least an hour before bedtime.
Sleep schedule and naps: If you’re a big fan of naps or don’t keep a regular sleep schedule, it can make it hard to go to sleep — and get up — when you need to.The fix: Give up the naps or limit them to brief (10 to 20 minutes) ones before mid-afternoon. And try to go to bed and wake up at the same time each day — even weekends.
Sometimes the issues causing your sleep troubles aren’t just bad habits or timing. Addressing some problems takes more effort for that sweet payoff of better sleep.
Stress is a major barrier to good sleep. But it isn’t something that you can change in a night. If you are a life-long worrier, consider taking up meditation. Or learn to focus on your breathing or relaxing different parts of your body to help you go to sleep. There are many ways to manage stress, and it’s worth the effort.
If you’ve had a major life change, like losing your job or experiencing a divorce or the death of a loved one, reach out for help and support.
Health problems also contribute to poor sleep. Talk to your doctor if you’re one of the many people who have pain or illness that gets in the way, including:
Getting enough sleep is one of the best things you can do for your mental and physical health. If you regularly have trouble falling or staying asleep, talk to your doctor.
If you’re feeling tired all the time, it might be time to start keeping a sleep diary. You can do it with pen and paper on a handy sleep log or in a journal.
Or you can make use of technology. Your fitness tracker may have a sleep area. Just don’t use an app on your phone too close to bedtime. That pesky blue light may be one of the things keeping you from the restful sleep your body needs.
Try tracking your sleep times and related details for several weeks, then look at the factors behind your good or bad nights. You can even share your sleep log with your doctor. This information can help you find out what works for you.
Try this sleep diary you can download from the National Sleep Foundation that has areas for tracking detailed information about your sleep habits and experiences. Or download the American Academy of Sleep Medicine’s two week sleep diary.
Originally published 2/12/2020; Revised 2021
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