Tips for Easy Living

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How to get a better night's sleep

When it is 3 a.m. and you are pacing the halls of your dark and quiet house while everyone else is sleeping soundly in their beds, it may seem like you are the only person in the entire world who is not getting some much-needed shut-eye. However, many people struggle to get a good night's sleep.

Information from the National Sleep Foundation, Better Sleep Council, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and several other organizations indicate that between 20 and 40 percent of the U.S. population experiences insomnia. Many of the people suffering from insomnia have family histories of the condition or are also experiencing depression. Insomnia rates are higher for people over the age of 60, and women are twice as likely to suffer from insomnia than men.

Among Canadians, 40 percent of a recently polled group of 2,000 individuals reported insomnia symptoms at least three times per week in the preceding month. French-speaking Canadians were less likely to experience insomnia than English-speaking residents, but researchers are unsure why.

Although how much sleep a person requires varies from individual to individual, the general consensus is that adults should receive between seven and eight hours of sleep per night to feel rested.

The Institute of Medicine estimates that hundreds of billions of dollars are spent annually on medical costs that are directly related to sleep disorders, while statistics from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration indicate that 100,000 vehicle accidents occur annually as a result of drowsy drivers. These figures underscore the importance of getting a good night's rest and understanding how to treat insomnia in order to do so.

* Insomnia may be a byproduct of a physical condition. A person dealing with side effects of certain medications, chronic pain, restless legs syndrome, sleep apnea, and a bevy of other conditions may find it difficult to sleep at night. Identifying the cause of the insomnia can make it easier to treat, so those who can't sleep at night may have an undiagnosed condition that is affecting their ability to fall asleep.

* Exercise can help promote better sleep habits. A workout will tire you out, increase feel-good endorphins throughout the body and raise body temperature. As the body recovers from the workout, it may feel sated and you can drift off to sleep more easily. Just do not work out too late. Aim to complete a workout two to three hours before planning on going to sleep so your body is not still amped up when your head hits the pillow.

* Establish a regular sleep schedule. Humans are creatures of routine, and training the body to recognize when it is time to wake up and when it's time to go to sleep can make it easier to enjoy a good night's rest. Stick to a consistent schedule as much as possible -- even on the weekends. It isn't possible to make up for lost sleep, so pull yourself out of bed at the same time in the morning, even if you didn't get a good night's rest. Over time you will condition yourself to accept certain times for sleeping and waking.

* The National Sleep Foundation advises avoiding heavy meals, caffeine and nicotine before bed. Each of these things can rev up the body and make it difficult to settle down.

* On the surface, a cocktail may seem like a good way to unwind and relax. Although a drink or two may help many people fall asleep, it will not produce the deep sleep necessary to recharge the body. When the effects of the alcohol wear off after a few hours, your sleep is likely to be interrupted. In addition, relying on alcohol as a sleep remedy can lead to dependence and further health problems.

* Get up and accept a poor night's sleep rather than tossing and turning. It can be easy to associate the bed with wakefulness and frustration if you stay in bed and watch the clock. Getting up and reading or listening to relaxing music can help distract the mind and relax the body. Avoid working on the computer or watching television. Bright light can reduce the production of the sleep-inducing hormone melatonin, resulting in further difficulty settling down.

* Thanks to their reproductive hormones, women undergo more sleep changes and challenges than men. Afterward, being woken by children or worrying about them can lead to sleepless nights. Many women experience trouble sleeping during menopause. Different therapies may be needed to figure out the solution for a restful night's sleep.

* Individuals can try natural remedies to induce sleep or stay asleep. In addition to good sleep hygiene and maintaining a regular sleep schedule, there are a number of herbs that can relax the body. Chamomile tea has soothing properties, and drinking  chamomile tea before bed can be an effective sleep strategy. Valerian has been used as a medicinal herb since at least the time of Ancient Greece and Rome, and it can reduce anxiety and promote sleep. Melatonin supplements are produced from plant sources and can induce sleep when taken in the right amounts. Speak with a doctor about possible remedies to find a sleep system that works for you.

Insomnia is a more common problem than many people may think. Recognizing insomnia as a problem and seeking treatment can help many people get on the road to a more restful night's sleep.