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Lack of sleep is “a national epidemic,” the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says. Almost one-quarter of people the CDC surveyed confessed that sleepiness keeps them from concentrating.
What’s worse, nearly 5 percent of them told CDC pollsters they had “nodded off or fallen asleep” while driving at least once in the previous month.
Many of us just aren’t getting enough rest. Here are the National Institutes of Health’s recommendations:
- School-age children — At least 10 hours
- Teenagers — Nine to 10.5 hours
- Adults — Seven to eight hours
Fortunately, there are ways to improve your sleep. Many require little or no money.
1. Create the right atmosphere
Make your bedroom a comfortable, inviting place. Pay attention to the temperature, the aesthetics and the comfort of your bed. Set the temperature between 60 and 75 degrees Fahrenheit, and make sure the air circulation is good.
Toss out nightclothes that aren’t loose and comfortable. Change your bedding and sleepwear at least weekly.
2. Invest in a good mattress
The Consumer Reports’ Mattress Buying Guide offers more than a dozen tips for buying the right mattress. According to the guide:
You should think about buying a new mattress if you wake up tired or achy, you tend to sleep better at hotels than at home, your mattress looks saggy or lumpy, you’re over 40, or your mattress is at least five to seven years old.
3. Wait until you’re sleepy
Stay out of bed until you’re feeling drowsy, says the American Academy of Sleep Medicine. Instead:
Read a book, listen to soft music or browse through a magazine. Find something relaxing, but not stimulating, to take your mind off of worries about sleep. This will relax your body and distract your mind.
4. Train your brain
Bad habits contribute to many sleep problems.
It’s hard to break and make habits, but, once established, they run effortlessly in the background of our lives.
Cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia (CBTI) is one way of reshaping your sleep habits. The National Sleep Foundation explains how it works.
CBTI may take weeks of work and require professional help, but it likely is worth the effort. The National Institutes of Health says, “cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia (CBTI) has proven efficacy.”
5. Keep the bedroom a sanctuary
Reserve your bedroom for sleep, dressing and sex. Nothing else.
The underlying idea is to associate your bedroom with restfulness and sleep, eliminating activities connected with wakefulness or stress.
6. Get up if you can’t sleep
Insomniacs shouldn’t stay in bed when they’re not sleeping. By getting out of bed, you avoid making a connection in the mind between the bed and sleeplessness.
“If you are not asleep after 20 minutes, then get out of the bed,” says the American Academy of Sleep Medicine.
7. Try a sleep app
Healthline offers reviews of its top sleep apps for iOS and Android. Many feature sounds like peaceful music, white noise, or falling rain and whispering wind.
Others use hypnosis, deep breathing instructions or meditations.
8. Do a DIY sleep clinic
SleepRate is an iOS or Android app. It’s more elaborate and more expensive than other apps. Time describes it:
SleepRate is an app that helps people who can’t or won’t go to a sleep clinic to generate, in DIY fashion, the same kind of information that all the monitors do to help sleep experts design the right behavioral therapy for patients.
The app ($99.99) “can detect sleep disturbances by mathematically defining the connection between sleep, heart rate and respiration,” Time says.
It comes with a kit including a sleep plan, a heart-rate monitor worn on the chest that wirelessly transmits data to your phone, and a Stanford University proprietary CBTI treatment plan for sleep problems.
9. Manage caffeine and tobacco
Coffee does a good job of keeping you awake. That’s why we love it. But it stays in your system for hours, as Harvard Medical School’s Division of Sleep Medicine notes:
So avoid caffeine (found in coffee, tea, chocolate, cola, and some pain relievers) for four to six hours before bedtime. Similarly, smokers should refrain from using tobacco products too close to bedtime.