Over the last 50 years, Americans have cut back on sleep; yet the recommendations for the amount of sleep that we need remains the same. Most adults need an average of seven to eight hours of sleep each night. Without adequate periods of rest for physical and mental repair, you may not be able to function at your peak.

One in three Americans experiences fatigue and this lack of sleep can interfere with daily activities and responsibilities. Sleepless nights may contribute to memory problems, work errors, depression, and a weakened immune system. Furthermore, preliminary research has shown that individuals who sleep less than six hours on a regular basis are more likely to be overweight; inadequate sleep may lead to an imbalance of hormones that regulate appetite and metabolism.

To get the rest your body and mind need, try the following tips:

  • Don’t eat or drink large amounts before bedtime. Eat a light dinner at least two hours before sleeping. Your body requires energy to digest your food; digestion can interfere with sleeping if you eat too close to bedtime. Likewise, too much liquid can interrupt sleep, causing you to wake up repeatedly during the night for trips to the bathroom.
  • Avoid stimulants such as caffeine close to bedtime, as these inhibit sleep.
  • Go to bed and get up at the same time every day, even on the weekends. Sticking to a schedule helps reinforce your body’s sleep-wake cycle and can help you fall asleep better.
  • Start a relaxing bedtime routine that tells your body it’s time to wind down. This may include taking a warm bath or shower, reading a book, or listening to soothing music.
  • Make your bedroom cool, dark, quiet and comfortable to create an ideal sleeping environment.
  • Choose an ergonomically correct mattress and pillow. Your body moves naturally during the night to promote better sleep; however, movement triggered by unsupportive sleeping conditions, such as a worn-out mattress, may interfere with good rest.
  • If you share your bed, make sure there is adequate room. Children and pets can be disruptive, so you may need to set limits on how often they sleep in bed with you.
  • Don’t agonize over falling asleep; the stress will only prevent sleep. If you don’t fall asleep within about 20 minutes, get up and do something such as reading to occupy your mind. Go back to bed when you’re tired.
  • Exercise regularly. Regular physical activity, especially aerobic exercise, can help you fall asleep faster and make your sleep more restful. Keep in mind that exercising too close to your bedtime may make it difficult for you to wind down.
  • Avoid irregular naps and limit naps to less than half an hour.

If you’re having problems falling asleep or staying asleep, consult with your doctor. Identifying and treating the cause of your sleep disturbance can help get you back on the road to a good night’s sleep.

Sources: The Mayo Clinic, the National Sleep Research Project, the National Sleep Foundation, Harvard Medical School, and Washington and Shady GroveAdventistHospitals. For additional information, consult your physician.