One in five Americans sleeps less than six hours a night—a trend that can have serious personal health consequences. Sleep deprivation increases the risk for a number of chronic health problems, including obesity, diabetes, and heart disease. If you have trouble sleeping, the following strategies can help you get more sleep.

Check for underlying causes. Some conditions or medications may be interfering with your sleep patterns. Treating a condition or adjusting a medication may be all it takes to restore better sleep.

Practice good sleep hygiene. Use your bed for sleep and sex only, block as much noise and light as possible, go to bed and wake at the same times each day, and get out of bed if you haven’t fallen asleep within 20 minutes.

Nap if needed. If you like to nap, get your daytime shut-eye in midday. Naps late in the day can interfere with sleep later. If your problem is difficulty getting to sleep at night, then not napping can make you sleepier at bedtime and more likely to stay asleep.

Exercise earlier, not later. Exercise stimulates the body and brain, so make sure you finish exercising at least three hours before turning in.

Watch your diet. stay away from foods that cause heartburn. Ban caffeine-rich food and drinks (chocolate, tea, coffee, soda) at least six hours before bedtime. Don't drink alcohol for at least two hours before bed.

See a sleep specialist. If your own efforts aren't working, you'll want the help of a sleep professional to both diagnose your problem and propose behavioral and possibly drug treatments.

Sleep Articles

Sleep problems may increase the risk of heart attack and stroke

People who sleep poorly or too little have high levels of stress hormones and more inflammation throughout the body. Stress and inflammation each increase risk of heart disease and add to diabetes risk by increasing insulin sensitivity. One sleep problem—sleep apnea—is especially hard on the heart. Sleep apnea sufferers actually stop breathing from 15 to more than 100 times an hour during the night. Blood oxygen levels drop, making it hard for the heart to do its job of pumping oxygen-rich blood through the arteries. Studies are under way to see whether treating sleep apnea improves heart health. (Locked) More »

Better sleep-without pills

Prescription sleep aids can help you fall asleep, but they can also have side effects like an increased risk for falls and daytime sleepiness that can make it dangerous to drive. Before women take sleep medication, they should see a doctor to identify the cause of their insomnia. Women may be able to sleep better by using lifestyle interventions, such as relaxing before bed, cutting back on caffeine and alcohol, and waking up and going to bed on the same schedule every day. (Locked) More »

Boost energy with these everyday steps

Men who feel fatigued during the day can take a few basic steps to feel better. First, medical causes of fatigue should be ruled out. The energy available on any day is limited, so stretching out tasks over the day gradually is helpful. Power naps are good as long as you do not have chronic sleeplessness. In that case, napping can worsen the insomnia. To provide steady fuel for daily activities, eat nutritious foods like whole grains and healthful protein, which are absorbed more slowly than foods composed mostly of sugar and highly processed carbohydrates, like bakery items. Dietary supplements and vitamins are not useful unless you are deficient in a key nutrient, such as iron. (Locked) More »

Ask the doctor: Restless leg treatments

Restless legs syndrome causes unpleasant sensations in, and sudden spontaneous movements of, the legs-typically during sleep or when at rest during the day. Exercises, heating pads, hot tubs, and several medicines may provide sufficient relief. (Locked) More »

Learn how to sleep again

With aging, sleep can become more fragmented and less restful. More frequent awakenings and difficulty falling asleep again lead to daytime fatigue and other problems. It's important to adopt good sleep habits before considering sleeping pills for persistent insomnia. For insomnia with anxiety, a form of counseling and training called cognitive behavioral therapy can help. Some people may need prescription sleeping pills, either short term or on a continuing basis. Sleeping pills should be used at the lowest effective dose to prevent daytime drowsiness that increases the risk of falls and accidents. (Locked) More »

Weight loss for better sleep

Losing weight, especially in the belly, improves the quality of sleep for overweight and obese people. This may be because weight loss reduces the risk of sleep apnea. The best way to lteose weight in the belly is with exercise and a healthy diet. Doctors recommend 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity (such as swimming or brisk walking) each week. Shorter but more frequent exercise sessions have the same physical impact as longer exercise sessions. (Locked) More »

Aortic aneurysm: a potential killer

Fatty deposits in the aorta, the body’s largest blood vessel, can weaken its walls, causing a bulge called an abdominal aortic aneurysm. If an aneurysm bursts, the result is usually catastrophic. Because such aneurysms rarely cause symptoms until they rupture, people at risk may benefit from an ultrasound exam of the aorta. Risk factors for this kind of aneurysm include smoking, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, emphysema, being overweight, and having a family history of aortic disease or heart disease. Medicare covers an aneurysm check for men who have smoked more than 100 cigarettes in their lives and women with a family history of aneurysm. (Locked) More »

How sleep apnea affects the heart

Sleep apnea, a condition that causes breathing to stop dozens or hundreds of times every night, contributes to poor cardiovascular health by causing the body to release adrenaline. When this happens night after night, adrenaline levels remain high, and blood pressure rises. Untreated sleep apnea may raise the risk of dying from heart disease up to five times. Depending on the underlying cause, there are several effective treatments for sleep apnea. (Locked) More »

Reduce your stroke risk

It’s important to get obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) diagnosed and under control. OSA is a condition that occurs during sleep, when a person stops breathing for a few seconds because his or her airway is blocked. A person with untreated OSA has an increased risk of having a stroke, a fatal stroke, and a second stroke compared to those without sleep apnea. Treatment includes weight loss, oral appliances, surgery, and a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) device, which uses air delivered through a mask to prevent the airway from closing. (Locked) More »