As anyone who has worked overtime to complete a project or stayed up through the night tending to a sick child can attest, lack of sleep affects just about everything - from well-being and personal relationships to job performance and alertness. And recent studies suggest that the repercussions of too little sleep aren't only personal: According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, drowsy drivers caused roughly 100,000 crashes on our nation's highways in 1998. Likewise, accidents attributed to sleep-deprived workers cost the federal government and private businesses billions of dollars each year in workmen's compensation.
Getting a good night's sleep isn't something to just dream about, though. You also can't afford to ignore snoring. As our common sense tips show, a little planning and discipline are all that's needed to get eight hours of restorative zzz's.
Make it a priority to get eight hours of sleep a night. Establish a fairly consistent sleep schedule and stick to it - that way you are tired and ready to sleep come bedtime.
Say no to coffee, tea, colas, and chocolate, all of which contain the stimulant caffeine, for at least four hours prior to turning in.
Avoid alcoholic beverages. A late-night toddy may make you drowsy, but it will ultimately compromise the quality of deep sleep. Dehydration, headaches, and frequent urination are common side effects that can contribute to a night of less-than-restful sleep.
Exercise early in the day. Working out before bedtime will energize your body, making it difficult to fall asleep.
Review current medications with your doctor or pharmacist to determine if insomnia is a side effect.
Take a bath or stretch to soothe tired muscles and relieve stress.
Keep a journal. Writing down your concerns and thoughts before retiring can help to reduce anxiety and put the problems of the day in perspective.
Turn off all lights and draw curtains or shades. If it is impossible to eliminate outside light, consider wearing a sleep mask.
Minimize noise. If your neighborhood is particularly noisy, invest in foam earplugs (available at drug stores) or a fan, the whir of which should drown out more persistent sounds.
Keep your bedroom cool. Between 60 [degrees] and 65 [degrees] F is considered ideal, according to the nonprofit Better Sleep Council.
Make sure your mattress is comfortable and offers adequate support for your body. If you frequently wake up experiencing aches and pains, it's time to consider purchasing a new mattress (see "Mattress Matters," above, for details).
Good luck and good night!
Are You Getting Enough?
"Most of us need eight hours of sound sleep to function at our best, and good health demands good sleep," says Thomas Roth, Ph.D., the director of the Sleep Disorders Research Center at Henry Ford Hospital, in Detroit, in Detroit. "People have no idea how important sleep is to their lives," he adds. According to the National Sleep Foundation, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit, Americans on average sleep about seven hours a night. Nearly a third of us, however, sleep six hours or less during the workweek.
Getting the Rest You Need
At the sleep disorder clinic at Good Samaritan Medical Center, in West Palm Beach, Fla., co-director Dr. Allen Rosen recommends that patients experiencing insomnia make sure they keep to a regular sleep schedule and only hit the sack when truly tired. Patients at the clinic are cautioned to avoid eating, paying bills, listening to the radio, or watching TV in bed so that they will come to associate their beds with sleep. Dr. Rosen also encourages the individuals he treats to try deep-breathing exercises or listening to relaxation tapes (available at most bookstores) to unwind before turning in. Patients at the clinic who find sleep elusive are also told to turn their clocks so that the dial faces the wall. "There's nothing worse than watching the clock ticking and worrying that you're not getting enough sleep," says Dr. Rosen.
Although we spend roughly a third of our lives in bed, few of us give our mattresses adequate attention. Jim Ruehlmann, of the mattress manufacturer Sealy, offers the following advice:
* Replace mattresses and box springs every seven to 10 years.
* Buy the best mattress you can afford and make certain that the coil count is at least 300.
* If you're part of a couple, always shop for a new mattress together.
* To prolong the life of your bed and even out wear, use a mattress pad and rotate your mattress every few months (turn it upside down, then top to bottom).
* Keep your mattress clean by vacuuming it regularly