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

Snoring solutions

Snoring is common. It is caused by extra tissue in the nose or throat that restricts breathing during sleep, or by nasal blockages or congestion. Steps that can alleviate snoring include not drinking alcohol at night, changing sleep position, losing weight if needed, avoiding certain medications, and addressing causes of nasal congestion. A special oral appliance to adjust the position of the jaw and tongue is effective for some snorers, as are adhesive strips worn during sleep to improve flow through the nose. Outpatient surgeries for snoring are not backed by strong scientific evidence, although they may work for certain individuals. Men who snore loudly and habitually should be checked for obstructive sleep apnea, or disordered nighttime breathing. More »

Ask the Doctor: Teens and sleep

Q: How much sleep do teenagers need? A: Our answer may surprise you. Even though the average teen tries to get by on very little sleep, in fact, teens need more sleep than younger children. The National Sleep Foundation suggests that teens need an average of more than nine hours of sleep each night. Many teens stay up late. They often get only six or seven hours of sleep per night, since they have to get up early to be at school on time. To get enough sleep, a teen that needs to get up before 6 a.m. would have to go to bed by 9 p.m. Obviously, most adolescents do not go to bed this early. (Locked) More »

How a sleep shortfall can stress your heart

Chronic sleep deprivation strains the cardiovascular system, which may raise the risk of a heart attack or stroke. The most common cause, insomnia (trouble falling and staying asleep) often stems from stress, depression, or anxiety. Sleep apnea, which causes loud snoring and frequent breathing lapses during sleep, is more prevalent in people at risk for heart disease. (Locked) More »

When sleeplessness starts in the legs

Restless legs syndrome (RLS) is marked by uncomfortable sensations in the legs at night and an irresistible urge to move them. This can make it harder to fall asleep and stay asleep, leading to daytime fatigue and sleepiness. For moderate to severe symptoms, there are now five FDA-approved medications. Doctors also check iron levels, because boosting iron levels reduces symptoms in some people with RLS. It can also help to avoid certain medications, nicotine, caffeine, and alcohol, which may worsen RLS symptoms. Some people find daily exercise and stretching and massaging the legs to be helpful. More »

iPad can disrupt sleep, study suggests

Harvard researchers found that reading an 2010-model iPad before bedtime reset the circadian clock, causing people to feel less alert in the morning. Newer e-readers might not have this effect. More »