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Everyone has trouble sleeping from time to time. Any number of things can leave you tossing and turning: problems at work, the stress of daily life, or the natural sleep problems that often are part of the aging process. And sleepless nights can lead to daytime drowsiness, crankiness and a feeling that you are simply not on your game.
If your occasional sleeplessness becomes chronic or starts to have a negative impact on your life and work, talk to your doctor. But if you simply want to promote a better night's sleep and avoid occasional problems, the National Sleep Foundation offers the following tips:
- Go to bed and get up at the same time every day, even on weekends and vacations. Sleep patterns are controlled by your body's circadian rhythms, the brain function that creates your cycles of sleep and waking. By going to bed and getting up at the same time every day, you can strengthen your own internal sleep clock.
- Spend some quiet time before sleep. The idea is to separate yourself from the stresses of your day. Don't watch scary movies or read lurid novels right before bed. And don't do stressful things like going over work or paying bills. Instead, try a warm bath, soothing music or a calming novel to prepare your mind for slumber.
- Make sure your bedroom is a good sleep environment. You want it to be quiet, dark and cool in temperature. You might find it helpful to use special curtains that keep out light, or devices that create "white noise" to block outside sounds. You can buy pricey white-noise devices that create soothing sounds, but many people find that running a fan or air conditioner works just as well.
- Make sure your mattress and pillows are comfortable. It is very difficult to get a good night's sleep on an uncomfortable bed. Buy the most comfortable mattress and pillows you can afford. And don't hang onto your mattress too long –- even good mattresses are only good for about a decade.
- Your bed should be only for sleep or sex. You don't want your body to be confused about what to do in bed. Obviously, you should have no trouble differentiating between sleep and sex. But if you also do work or watch TV in bed, for example, your body will have more trouble figuring out what you want to do once you lie down.
- Don't eat or drink right before bed. In fact, allow at least two or three hours between eating a big meal and going to bed, to give yourself plenty of time to digest. You probably already have found that eating spicy foods before bed can cause heartburn, which keeps you awake. And you probably also know that drinking too much – of anything – before bed can cause you to wake up through the night to go to the bathroom.
- Get plenty of regular exercise, but not right before bed. Regular exercise promotes regular sleep, and exercising in the late afternoon is best in terms of sleep patterns. If you exercise right before bed, you may have trouble settling down to sleep. Make sure you finish your workout at least three hours before bed.
- If you have not already switched to decaf, avoid caffeine in the evening. Caffeine, which is in coffee, tea, cola drinks and chocolate, can keep you awake, so avoid drinking it from late afternoon on.
- Don't smoke near bedtime. Nicotine is also a stimulant, and it can interfere with sleep. Smoking can also give you nightmares. And never, never smoke in bed.
- Alcohol won't help you sleep. Although alcohol in excess may cause you to go to sleep, it actually keeps you from sleeping well. Drinking alcohol before bed may cause you to wake up more often during the night. Try a cup of herbal tea instead.